Erie Vital Signs

Truly Scary Data for Halloween

Where better to spend Halloween than spooky Eerie PA?

This week, how about a nice romantic visit to Axe Murder Hollow in Millcreek? Or perhaps, you would like to meet the ghosts that have haunted the dusty spaces of the Riverside Inn in Cambridge Springs for decades? The rumor is that the Eagle Hotel in Waterford may be a good site for an otherworldly experience, too. And it is rumored a car that stalls on the Moorheadville Road bridge over I-90 in North East will be pulled uphill by supposedly helpful spooks.

For Halloween this year, we thought it would be useful to present some truly scary data about Erie. Below are some cold, hard facts that should make a thoughtful person truly concerned about Erie’s future, never mind the zombie apocalypse.

1) Transfer payments as a share of total Erie income: 22.1%

Transfer payments are benefits received for which no current services are performed, and include payments by governments and businesses to individuals and nonprofit institutions. Mostly government payments, they include retirement and disability insurance benefits (e.g., Social Security); medical benefits (e.g., Medicare); income maintenance benefits (e.g., benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or “SNAP”); unemployment insurance compensation; veterans benefits; education and training assistance; and other miscellaneous payments.

Why is this number scary? For several reasons:

  • The number for the U.S. is 15.8%, so Erie’s 22.1% is 40% higher than the national value.
  • As the graph shows, Erie’s number has risen significantly, from 8.1% in 1969. While the national value has also risen (111%), Erie’s has risen at a much faster clip (173%). If only our incomes or output would rise that quickly!
  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and these funds have to come from somewhere—or, more accurately, from someone. The rising number here means that a greater percentage of Erieites are relying on the largesse of someone else, instead of working to produce things that would create income. These Erieites are taking a bigger share of the pie—meaning others are getting less pie, instead of working to make the pie bigger so everyone can have more pie. And that’s a scary trend for both Erie and the U.S. It also suggests that a greater percentage of Erieites qualify for these government programs, which is a scary thought in itself.

There is a little good news here in that Erie’s transfer percent was higher in 2010, at 24.2%, and has fallen a bit since then. But the 2013 value (the most recent data) do not show that drop continuing.

2) Increase in weapons offenses between 2009 and 2014: 257%

The number of weapons offenses in Erie County rose from 58 in 2009 to 207 in 2014. During that same period, the number of weapons crimes rose by only 28% statewide. We do not wish to put too fine an edge on this one; Erie is still a relatively safe place to live. The violent crime rate in Erie was 245 per 100,000 in 2013, well below the state rate of 335 and the national rate of 368. Still, the dramatic uptick in weapons crime is frightening.

3) Percent of Erie children who are overweight or obese: grades 1 to 6 - 53.8%; grades 7 to 12 - 47.6%

The percent of Erie’s kids that are overweight is significantly above the statewide averages, and that number took a serious jump in 2013. If these patterns continue, they suggest that the next generation will be dealing with a number of other health problems such as diabetes when they get older. On the other hand, the same data source tells us that 68% of Erie’s adults were overweight or obese in 2013, so we are not setting such a great example for the kids, are we? Maybe it is time to rethink those Halloween treats…or at least plan some serious exercise activity with the kids for the month of November. (That is scary in its own right, isn’t it?)

4) Poverty rate in Erie County: 16.3%

The good news is that the poverty rate in Erie fell in 2014 from its 2013 level of 18.3%--a significant drop! So why is this number scary? While the recent data are encouraging, a longer-term view tells us that poverty rates in Erie used to fall, not rise. In fact, they fell from 1993’s 13.9% all the way to 11.1% in 2000. But since then the pattern for Erie (and the U.S.) has reversed. Something important has changed for the worse. Moreover, the poverty rate in Erie among those less than 18 years of age was 22.7% in 2014. This means that more than one in five of Erie’s children is growing up in poverty. These kids are Erie’s future, and a youth spent in poverty may not prepare them as well as we might like to be productive and successful citizens in the near future.

Might this pattern of rising poverty help explain the rising transfer payment rate mentioned above? If more kids qualify for government assistance, clearly that would have an impact on the transfer payment rate. But if kids are raised learning that income comes from the government rather than from productive work, what does that bode for Erie’s future? That is truly scary.

5) Heart attack death rate in Erie County: 45.4 per 100,000.

It may not sound like a lot, but that death rate has risen 16% in Erie County since 2009. During that same time, the statewide rate continued its long-term drop, falling another 15%. That puts Erie’s rate nearly 31% higher than the statewide rate. Coupled with this is the fact that the incidence of diabetes rose from 8% to 11% in Erie County between 2007 and 2013, that 31% of Erieites had been diagnosed with hypertension in 2011, 27% reported being smokers and 22% being binge drinkers in 2013, and 28% reported being physically inactive in 2011. All of this suggests that we should forget about vampires and werewolves; it’s chicken wings and chili cheese fries that we really need to be afraid of. Maybe being chased by a troupe of walking dead would at least give us some exercise?

6) Number of early childhood risk factors, out of seven, for which Erie scores worse than PA: all seven.

These indicators provide data on the percent of Erie’s children that are exposed to various risk factors that research suggests could hinder their education, which will have a profound effect on their—and our--future. In fact, the numbers have gotten worse for four of the indicators in the most recent year for which we have data. Moreover, the two indicators that deal with third grade PSSA test scores tell us that some of these factors are not just risks, but have evolved into current problems for Erie. Education is the key to success in the future, so these are more truly scare numbers.

There is some good news in this category, though. Other data on Erie Vital Signs tell us that Erie’s rate of participation in early childhood education (ECE) is higher than the state average. Getting Erie kids into ECE is crucial to their—and our—future, so this is a hopeful sign. But the poverty numbers above tell us that there are still Erie families that cannot afford to give their kids this potentially life-changing hand up. This is a place where you can make a difference in a kid’s future. If you want to help, consider contacting one of the local groups who are addressing this problem. Two of them are Erie’s Future Fund and Early Connections.

To reward you for making it through those difficult statistics, here is one that is a bit more fanciful.

7) Number of confirmed vampire sightings in Erie County: zero. (That we know of…)

Unless you count the supposed vampire crypt in the Erie Cemetery. Is it just the Brown family crypt, or are the legends about an Erieite’s visit to Romania followed by an illness and sudden death, followed by reports of blood-drained corpses being found in the near area, all true? Seems unlikely, but is that really a V carved into the crypt as a warning—or just a stylized lily?

Perhaps we should count the vampire in Saturday the 14th, a 1981 horror movie spoof which was set in Erie? The vampire’s name was, interestingly, Waldemar. The movie starred husband and wife team Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss.


This Special Report has focused on Erie’s bad news. After all, it’s important for people to know what the problems really are, if we’re going to fix them.

If you’re really depressed after reading this and want to feel a little better:

  • Or, break into the Halloween candy a little early and eat about a dozen of those mini Snickers bars you have been trying to ignore. (But don’t forget to hit the gym tomorrow to work it all off. That will make you feel better, too!)

We have tried to add a little humor to this discussion of distressing data, to make reading about them a bit more palatable. But perhaps these data shouldn’t be palatable. We hope you are inspired to do something to make Erie a better place.

For more information on these and other topics, visit the Erie Vital Signs website where you will find the data on hundreds of others of the most important Erie indicators in seven key fields.

Erie Vital Signs (EVS) is a leadership initiative of the Erie Community Foundation. In partnership with the Economic Research Institute of Erie in the Black School of Business at Penn State Behrend, EVS tracks indicators that measure our county’s well-being in seven topical areas: Cultural Vitality, Community and Civic Engagement, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, and Regional Cooperation. Each topical area is overseen by a committee of informed experts who select the indicators to monitor, and review the interpretation of those indicators. The goal of EVS is to inform and inspire. We believe an increased focus on data and evidence-based decision-making will help create positive community change.

This EVS Special Report was written by Dr. James Kurre, Director Emeritus, E conomic R esearch I nstitute of E rie, in the Black School of Business, Penn State Behrend.

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