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Our View: Alarming news from poverty study

Updated: February 19, 2013 3:09PM



The Great Recession is over. The economists say so. But the human condition is not so easily linked to that recovery. The numbers may say Illinois is back in the economic sunlight, but we still are hurting. The recession left lives strewn along the roadside, and many have not recovered and may never do so.

Based on a 2011 Census Bureau survey, Chicago’s Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights estimates in a broad new study that 20 percent of Illinois children are living in poverty and at least a third of all residents live in or near poverty. A trend that has been rising for three decades has reached a plateau that even skeptics can’t ignore.

The recession drove many into poverty here by eliminating thousands of jobs, accelerating the loss of well-paid manufacturing jobs that historically have lifted people into the middle class. They do not seem to be coming back.

But the alliance’s study points to other core issues for the rise in poverty in Illinois (from 25 percent of residents in 2000). Too many people are forced to work for wages that do not enable them to save for a brighter future. Those on the wrong side of the growing income gap are short of comfortable places to live, good education and adequate health care.

Who are the new poor? Mostly, they’re former middle-income citizens who’ve been unable to counteract being laid off or a major medical expense or the loss of a spouse. Being middle class is the result of life offering assets and opportunities. Unchecked by rising opportunity, poverty saps a community and its people. That is happening in Illinois.

When tax revenue drops and budgets bleed red, one of government’s first responses is to cut social services. The voice of the poor is muted, their political influence small. If the Legislature needs any more motivation to repair the state’s financial engine, particularly the public pension shortfall, the study’s findings — described by its author as “disturbing” — provide it.

Every day our lawmakers delay making critical decisions imposes more pain on those who already are suffering too much. That’s unconscionable.



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