Ken Hammon’s driveway says it all.
About halfway down Tuckahoe Road in South Camden, sits the black Mustang the 31-year-old bought thanks to a life-changing job at Holtec International. The energy company recently opened a $300 million plant that manufactures small nuclear reactors in the city.
The tidy, three-bedroom house the muscle car is parked next to? Hammon bought that, too, after being hired as a welder last fall.
Roughly a year ago, he was a college student with two jobs, struggling to pay rent — his piece of the American Dream nowhere in sight.
“This is the first time, ever, I’ve really seen my mother just overjoyed. She’s always had really strong beliefs in me, but now it’s unbelievable,” Hammon said during a recent interview, just before heading to work the second shift at Holtec.
Hammon is part of a wave of new hires across Camden between 2013 and 2016. According to federal labor statistics, 541 new positions were created in the city during that three-year span.
It’s no boom, but these jobs do help explain a noteworthy shift in Camden — poverty appears to be falling.
The most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show the city’s poverty rate fell 10 percent last year compared with the previous five-year average.
Camden’s poverty rate is now roughly 30 percent, the lowest it’s been in more than a decade.
“Whether you’re looking at Camden County at large or the city itself, there’s been what I would describe as healthy growth in income,” said veteran labor economist Mark Price, a staffer at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg.
The census estimates some of Camden’s poorest residents are making about $2,000 more a year than just a few years ago. A big boost if, for example, you’re earning $12,000, the federal poverty line for a single person.