Have you ever wondered about what makes the South Side the vibrant, diverse, neighborhood that it is? Often, we know very little about the demographic and economic characteristics of the community in which we live. Understanding our neighborhood helps to bolster our sense of place in our community. The communities that we grow up and live in shape our identities and give meaning to our lives. In this way, our sense of place is deeply ingrained in how we understand our roles in the community. We can even link our sense of place to our pride of place for the neighborhood that we live in.
While the places that we live in shape us and give meaning to our lives, the data provided in this article can help us to address the specific needs of our communities. Data helps us understand trends in our communities such as housing, economic, and social trends that are often invisible to us when we walk down our city streets. Homeowners, renters, small business owners, and students can all benefit from understanding the major trends and patterns impacting the South Side. Drawing on data from the American Community Survey and the U.S. Census Bureau, this article provides demographic and economic data about our South Side communities.
In general, South Bethlehem is made up of five distinct census tracts: 109, 110, 111, 112, and 113. The total population of South Bethlehem is 20,325 people in the five census tracts combined, with 15,075 people or 74.2% of the South Side’s population representing minority groups (U.S. Census Bureau). The census defines an area of minority concentration when that, “population of any race or ethnicity is two times more than their presence in the State as a whole.” The South Side’s diverse population enriches the community both culturally and economically.
The City of Bethlehem’s median household income is $53,504 (2013-2017 ACS 5-Year Estimates). This is lower than the state of Pennslyvania’s median household income of $59,195 and Northampton County’s median household income of $66,066. Out of the five census tracts that make up the South Side, census tract 113 has the highest median household income at $47,350, with 109 following at $36,213 and 112 at $31,530. Census tracts 110 and 111 have the lowest median household income at $28,200 and $23,750 respectively. The average of the South Side’s median household income is $36,175. The U.S. Census considers all five of South Bethlehem’s tracts as “poverty areas,” which are census tracts “where at least 20% of residents are below the poverty line.” The percentage of South Bethlehem residents living below the poverty line is 10% higher than the state average of 20%, with nearly 30% of residents and 38% of children under the age of 18 living below the poverty line. 10.2% of residents live below the poverty line in Northampton County.
Table 1: Economic Indicators
These economic indicators demonstrate that we have members of our community, including children, that can use community support. In particular, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) ensures that community members have access to food. Statistics pertaining to SNAP benefits, poverty, and unemployment tell us how we as community members can use this information to advocate for each other and ensure that these vital programs continue to receive government funding. Further, community members can continue to support organizations like New Bethany Ministries and the Hispanic Center, both of which have food pantries that are open to families in need.
Additionally, age is another demographic characteristic we can look at on the South Side. The youngest census tract is 111, which is the census tract for Lehigh University. The median age for this census tract is 19.9 years old. Census tract 110 is the next youngest with a median age of 24.5 years old. 32.4 years old is the oldest median age, which is in census tract 109. The average median age for the City of Bethlehem is 32.7 years old, which is much younger than both the Lehigh Valley (41.3 years old) and the state of Pennsylvania’s average (40.7 years old). Overall, the statistics regarding age on the South Side and the City of Bethlehem indicate that the community is home to many young people. With this in mind, it is imperative for the city to invest in our community’s youth as they will be our future leaders. We must continue to advocate for our youth and empower them. It is crucial that we prioritize programs that promote our youth’s education and well being.
South Bethlehem is predominantly a renter community, with 67% of homes renter-occupied (American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2013-2017). The remaining 33% of homes in South Bethlehem are owner-occupied. Moreover, South Bethlehem has an older housing stock. 44.4% of the homes built in South Bethlehem were built before 1939. Table 2 depicts the age of South Bethlehem’s housing stock. The graph provides percent estimate values for the five South Bethlehem census tracts, which indicate the percentage of homes built each decade from 1939 and earlier to 2014 and later. The data demonstrates that in the five South Bethlehem census tracts the majority of homes were built prior to 1939.
Table 2: Age of the South Side’s Housing Stock
The year that South Bethlehem residents moved into their homes is another interesting indicator of housing trends depicted in Table 3. In all five census tracts, the majority of people moved into their homes from 2010-2014. The second trend we see is an increase in people moving into homes in South Bethlehem during 2000-2009. For census tract 110, 112, and 113, there is a significant number of people that moved into their homes in 2015 or later. On the contrary, the data for census tract 111 is considerably low because of how the majority of this census tract contains Lehigh University buildings and property with very little housing. Because so many people in the community are renters, we must think deeply about rental policies that protect community members. We must advocate for policies that safeguard renters’ rights and ensure that landlords are maintaining older properties.
Table 3: Year Homeowners Moved into Their Homes in South Bethlehem
Population, age, income, and housing are just a few of many indicators that we can look at to learn more about a neighborhood. Data provides us with a bigger picture of the challenges that we face as a community and can provide us with a starting place for community action on issues such as rental rights, property maintenance, and access to SNAP. However, this is just one component of a community’s larger narrative. The lived experiences and memories of our neighbors are also powerful. While it is important to be informed about the socioeconomic and housing characteristics of our community, actually fostering connections with people and taking the time to get to know our neighbors strengthens our sense of place in a way that is truly meaningful. Southsider invites readers to visit our community voices page as a way to learn about our neighbors and celebrate those that are making a difference in our community.