Poverty rates are on the rise in McLean and Peoria Counties as well as statewide. The Social Impact Research Center at Heartland Alliance reports 24,148 McLean County residents were living in poverty in 2011. Center Director Amy Rynell says that is an increase of 29.4% from 2010.
"So what we are seeing right now is a pretty unprecedented growth in hardship, and unfortunately a state and federal budget climate that is not well positioned politically to respond. Things are colliding in a really unfortunate way for many of our neighbors."
There are 33,143 Peoria County residents living in Poverty, a jump of 28%. The 15.1% poverty rate for McLean County is still below its 2009 recessionary peak. But conditions for Peoria's 18.3% of the population living in poverty are worse now than in 2009. Despite the more than 14% of McLean County children living in poverty, the center says McLean County is not on a watch list. The non profit non partisan group does have Peoria County on its poverty warning list with 28% of children living in Poverty. Rynell says Median family income in McLean County fell by 4.6% in 2011. In Peoria County median household income dropped 5.3% as part of the luke warm recovery in the jobs market.
"Even for people who are able to get jobs, they are often taking jobs that are much lower paying and frequently don't offer benefits; which really does put the squeeze on families."
Several other factors affect the spike in poverty. Rynell says government recession relief efforts such as rent assistance are phasing out, and the state budget crisis is hurting support networks.
"We have just eliminated or reduced beyond recognition a number of key programs that were designed to help families. So, that's another key driver."
Average household incomes in both counties are also well below averages recorded in 1999. Median McLean County median family income fell 4.6% for the year. Peoria County's median household income dropped 5.3%. High School graduation rates for poor children improved slightly in McLean County but fell sharply by 13.9% in Peoria County in 2011.
Rynell says these data make the case for an increase in the minimum wage. She says in Illinois 80% of those making the minimum wage are over the age of 20. Of the 400,00 minimum wage workers in the state, only 40% are working full time and she says even those with full time work at minimum wage are not getting out of poverty. She says the state should also put more money into homeless prevention because it is well known that it is more effective to keep people in housing than to pay to help re-house them later. Statewide the center records a 48% increase in homeless kids in schools from 2007-2011. Rynell also says state acceptance of the federal offer to pay for a Medicaid expansion would fix a huge hole in the safety net. And she says the federal government would pay all the costs for the first four years.
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