Group says child poverty on the rise

Group says child poverty on the rise

URBANA — More than one in five Champaign County kids were living in poverty in 2011, according to the new Kids Count report released this morning.

The county's child poverty rate nearly doubled in 12 years, growing from 12 percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2011.

The child poverty rate in Vermilion County also grew in that same time span, from 19 percent to 35 percent.

Done each year by the nonprofit, non-partisan Voices for Illinois Children, Kids Count takes a look at the health and well-being of children in the state.

Poverty statistics are taken from U.S. Census data, the organization says.

"It's definitely alarming that it has gone up so much over the last few years," Beverley Baker, director of community impact for the United Way of Champaign County, said of Champaign County's increase.

Baker said many local parents are juggling two or more lower-paying jobs to make ends meet, leaving little to no time to spend with their children and no money left over for discretionary spending and leisure activities.

"It's more about survival," she said.

Child poverty and poverty in general in Champaign County tends to be hidden, says Brenda Koester, assistant director of the University of Illinois Family Resiliency Center.

"You don't see it," she said. "And the working poor, even more."

She talks of all the children at local schools on reduced lunch programs, and how hard many of their parents are working trying to stay afloat.

"More than half the kids in those (school) buildings, the families are trying to live on a mind-boggling small income," she said.

Jeanne Mulvaney, president of the United Way of Danville Area, said poverty is one of the most crucial areas of focus for the Vermilion County community. And everyone has a stake in it, she says.

"It seems a daunting task and it is," she said. "It demands that each of us from United Way, social services, schools, churches, business where parents work and parents themselves to all be focused on educating our children from birth through their later years," she said. "Education is the key to a better life."

The Eastern Illinois Foodbank added food pantries at three high schools last year, at Champaign Centennial High School and in Mattoon and Charleston, and is preparing to open a fourth at Central High School within a few weeks, said its Executive Director Jim Hires.

These food banks, which help feed the entire families of needy students at these schools, have been very successful, Hires said.

"We'll eventually move to middle schools and elementary schools," he said.

Hires said one out of four children living in the 14 East Central Illinois counties the food bank serves is considered "food insecure," meaning the child lives in a family in which the next meal is uncertain.

Food insecurity is a symptom of poverty, Hires said, and one way to eliminate it is through employment that goes beyond seasonal jobs, he said.

Some 40 percent of people who use food pantries have jobs, but their income hasn't kept up with the increase in living costs, he said.

Voices for Illinois Children said Kids Count 2013 highlights achievements and challenges in health care coverage, access to early childhood education and seven other areas, but also shows the recession and the state budget crisis eroding gains and achievements in many of those areas. Some examples the organization gives:

— Participation in state-funded preschool programs doubled between the state's 1998 and 2009 fiscal years. But in the last four years about 20,000 fewer kids attended state-supported preschool because of deep budget cuts.

— The state's child care assistance program serves 170,000 children of low-income working families a month, but the state budget crisis has made eligibility for this program more restrictive and the co-payments families make have gone up in the past two years.

Voices for Illinois Children President Gaylord Gieseke said Illinois is at a crossroads with difficult choices to make.

"We challenge Illinois to do the right thing and the smart thing: Build on our past achievements, tackle the issues facing children and families today and position us for the future," Gieseke said in a written statement.


More findings from Kids Count 2013

Median income for families with children (adjusted for inflation) from 1999 to 2011:

Champaign County: Declined 10 percent.

Vermilion County: Declined 31 percent.

Children's enrollment in Medicaid and related assistance programs, 2005-2011:

Champaign County: Increased by 45 percent.

Vermilion County: Increased by 29 percent.

State-funded preschool spots lost 2009-2012:

Champaign County: 12 percent.

Vermilion County: 26 percent.

State as a whole: 12 percent

Low-income student enrollment, 2011-2012 school year:

Champaign: 56 percent.

Urbana: 67 percent.

Danville: 76 percent.

Statewide: 49 percent.

High school graduation rates 2010-2011

Champaign: 81 percent.

Urbana: 84 percent.

Danville: 74 percent

Statewide: 82 percent


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pattsi wrote on February 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Just a reminder that the state established a Commission on Elimination of Poverty about 2008.  Here is the web site

From the web site: 

"Current News

The Annual Progress Report is Released
September 29, 2011

Today, the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty announces the official release of its Annual Progress Report showing the state has lost ground in its efforts to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015."

The statistics in the above article indicate progress is on a downward curve.

Mike Frerichs is an appointed member of this commission.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm

CNN reported this week a poll indicating that 50% of Americans live either at the established poverty line, or below it.  We are becoming a nation of the Working Poor; and less of the Middle Class.  The decisions on how to fix it rests with Congress.  One thing for certain is that people have to eat.  They need shelter, education, and health care also.  Will compromises be made between the only two political parties; or will things continue on until the poverty population increases to 75%, or higher?  If it reaches 80%, or 90%; whatever Congress decides will not matter. 

nana25 wrote on February 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

As long as we have one generation after another that depends on public assistance, the rate can do nothing but rise, plain and simple.The figures go up expedentially! More on welfaare having more on welfare -easy equation that leads to disaster!