A once-great state, Illinois is in serious decline with almost a third of the state's citizens living below the poverty level. Yet our political leaders have not provided the sound policy and political stability to lead us to prosperity.
Citizens who are chagrined by the political dysfunction that goes hand in hand with Illinois' once-impressive national image learned last week that these self-inflicted wounds are just a part of the problem.
There's another big issue — poverty. One out of three Illinoisans is living in poverty, according to a study by a Chicago-based research center. Living below the poverty levels is defined as a family of four living with an annual income below $23,021, a fairly modest sum.
One can quibble around the edges about the definition of poverty. Clearly the poor in the United States would be considered wealthy by residents of many nations across the globe. At the same time, there is a vast and costly social safety net, funded by government and numerous charities, that helps to minimize the human misery that poverty imposes.
But what's led us to this economic decline?
Illinois has not been exempt from the brutal recession that put many thousands of people out of work. The state's manufacturing base, once a driving force in our economy, has been dramatically reduced. The destructive pathologies of the inner city — the evisceration of the family unit, violence, poor schools and out-of-wedlock births — have left many people unprepared to take on adult responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Illinois continues to be a magnet for illegal immigration in which the poorest of the poor cross our borders from other countries in search of a better life. This importation of poverty contributes significantly to the strain on social services and public education.
But one can't help but get the feeling that the state's perverse politics also plays a role.
With so many in need of a job, why is Illinois' business climate so hostile to job creators? Why does Illinois encourage those who might expand or build here to go to neighboring states, like Indiana, by imposing higher costs for workers' compensation? Why can't our elected officials manage state finances in a way that avoids the political instability that drives away those who might otherwise invest in this state and its people?
Prosperity requires sound policy and political stability. What Illinois has is relentless corruption and political flimflam that creates chaos.
Of course, the ultimate responsibility for these problems lies with the voters. They have repeatedly elected governors and legislators who have put their own interests ahead of the citizens they purport to represent and have essentially bankrupted the state in the process.
There is a huge price to pay for this folly, and the state of Illinois and its people are paying it in spades.