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  Illinois: A State in Crisis

COMMENTARY:

Illinois: A State in Crisis

by Stephen Lendman
Saturday, 5 June 2010
Over 1.5 million Illinoisans are impoverished (44% of them in extreme poverty), or 12.2% of the population. Another 16% are at risk, or over 3.5 million people. Among them are over half a million children and one-third of the state's Blacks, another half million. Given the woefully out-of-date federal $22,000 poverty threshold for a family of four, the true problem is far greater.

This writer's earlier articles addressed greater social misery in America than since the Great Depression, because of unemployment, homelessness, hunger, bankruptcies, despair, and rising poverty levels.

According to the National Academy of Science, 47.4 million Americans were impoverished in 2008, 15% of the population, but the true number is much higher since the government's income threshold is $22,000 for a family of four, way short of what's needed throughout urban America where even half again as much is too little.

Illinois is a microcosm of the nation. Facing the largest per capital budget deficit in America, equal to half its operating budget, it's in deep crisis, one of many problems being poverty, the issue the Heartland Alliance addressed in its May 5 report titled, "2010 Report on Illinois Poverty," deepening under budget-balancing social safety net cuts, making a bad situation worse for growing numbers throughout the state, suffering under dire economic conditions, exacerbated by bad public policy.

The Heartland Alliance "advances the human rights and responds to the human needs of endangered populations - particularly the poor, the isolated, and the displaced (in search for) a more just global society" - no easy task in today's environment, in Illinois or throughout the nation, given that 32 states are officially insolvent, including Illinois, and nearly all of them are severely challenged.

Years of Mismanagement Pushed Illinois Over the Edge

The state's budget crisis threatens vital services like food stamps and unemployment insurance, besides healthcare, education, and various programs for the needy, under consideration for cuts or elimination.

The combination of material hardship and high unemployment threatens to impact Illinois' economy for years, yet will worsen from draconian counterproductive measures, the very policies earlier enacted with new ones being considered.

Illinois Poverty in 2008

Based on US Census poverty guidelines, over 1.5 million Illinoisans are impoverished (44% of them in extreme poverty), or 12.2% of the population. Another 16% are at risk, a potential 28.2% total, or over 3.5 million people, and those numbers are conservative. Among them are over half a million children and one-third of the state's Blacks, another half million.

Given the woefully out-of-date federal $22,000 threshold for a family of four, the true problem is far greater, likely double the official numbers or higher, showing dire Illinois conditions that reflect the state of the nation - worsening, not improving.

Other Heartland figures show:

  • nearly one million Illinoisans unemployed or underemployed, and many more have stopped looking altogether;
  • in the last decade, offshoring cost thousands of high-paying manufacturing and other jobs, replaced with lower-paying service ones; from 2000 - 2008 (before the economic downturn's full impact), 168,500 service jobs replaced 203,000 manufacturing ones, a trend very much evident nationwide;
  • nearly one in five working age Illinoisans live in extreme poverty;
  • workers with less than a high school diploma are nearly four times more likely to be unemployed; 54% of working age adults in extreme poverty have a high school degree or less;
  • despite their known benefits, early childhood programs are being eliminated, likely when the Illinois Preschool for All program expires in summer 2010;
  • one in eight adults avoided doctor visits in the past year because of cost;
  • 52% of Illinois school children qualify for free or reduced cost school lunches, an indication of impoverished families; the 2008 number was 42% higher than in 2000, and today it's much higher still;
  • impoverishment means doing without health insurance and doctor visits when needed;
  • 50% of Illinoisans choose between paying for food or utilities like heat in winter;
  • 44% decide between buying food or paying rent or mortgages;
  • for 36%, the choice is between food and medicines and medical care;
  • in March 2010, one of every 371 Illinois homeowners got a foreclosure notice; a far larger percentage is at risk;
  • residents with disabilities face severe cutbacks in benefits; many can't meet expenses for rent, mortgages health care, and other essentials;
  • from mid-2006 - mid-2008, the number of homeless children enrolled in public schools increased 32%;
  • nearly one-fourth of state residents have no savings, checking or money market account;
  • the average Illinoisan is over $11,300 in debt;
  • one of every seven state households is in extreme asset poverty, having zero or negative net worth and no ability to handle emergencies;
  • over 20% of Chicagoans are impoverished, another 21% at risk; suburban areas are also heavily impacted, though less than the city proper;
  • around 40% of region households earn less annually than $50,000; given the area's high cost of living, they're effectively impoverished based on a September 2009 University of Washington School of Social Work Research Center & Center for Women's Welfare Social IMPACT study showing the minimum family need, in the eight regional counties, to make ends meet is $52,000 in Chicago; in suburban DePage county, it's nearly $62,000;
  • metropolitan Chicago has been hard hit by job losses, declining incomes, and increased home foreclosures and bankruptcies, the same pattern common nationally; and
  • 52% of regional residents in extreme poverty aren't employed, including seniors, the disabled, and children.

Heartland noted that its project began earlier when America was prosperous and future prospects looked favorable. Their recent annual reports caution that earlier good times haven't continued, nor were all boats lifted while they lasted.

Today's situation is dire. "The Great Recession has crumbled economic stability for millions of families" though loss of jobs, incomes and benefits, homes, businesses, savings and futures. And as always, those hardest hit will be slowest to recover, and many won't ever make it.

Most study data was the latest available through 2008, so didn't fully capture today's conditions. Nonetheless, "the magnitude of hardship reflected here is staggering," and suggests much worse ahead next year.

For growing numbers in need, what's coming "will be nothing short of devastating" because lawmakers are fighting hard times counterproductively, cutting back when stimulus is needed. The result, of course, is predictable - hard times for years to come. Perverse governance is the problem, harming millions of the most vulnerable, their numbers growing exponentially because nothing is being done to help them - in Illinois or nationally.


Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on June 5, 2010.
 

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