More and more children are living in poverty in the Land of Lincoln, a new report from a leading child advocacy group points out.
A growing number of children in Illinois know the Great Recession and the tepid recovery that has followed in its wake in terms of stressed households and blighted communities, fewer jobs for their adult relatives, and worse health. The percentage of kids, in other words, living below the federal poverty line in the state is up -- leaping from 17 percent to nearly 19 percent between 2008 and 2009, reaching 590,000 kids by the end of that year. (In 2009, the federal poverty line was defined as a family with two parents and two children making $21,756 per year and lesser amounts for households headed by single parents.)
It's the largest pool of poor kids in Illinois since 1993, according to "Illinois Kids Count 2011" (PDF), a report released yesterday by Voices For Illinois Children (VIC), one of the state's leading child advocacy organizations. The numbers mirror national trends. Take a look at this chart from the VIC report:
And the bad news doesn't stop there. Larry Joseph, VIC's chief budget analyst, said all signs point to child poverty rates continuing to increase over the next several years, perhaps to as much as 22 percent. The state, local governments, school districts, and neighborhoods should thus prepare to grapple with consequences of more poor children for some time.
The VIC report comes a day after Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled a budget for fiscal year 2012 that assumes a series of cuts to the human services network that forms the safety net for the poor and other vulnerable populations across the state. So even as the need for services to help the state's poorest children increases, resources available to provide that help seems likely to continue to diminish.
"The state fiscal crisis threatens to further erode important investments in early childhood education and care, health insurance coverage, children’s mental health services, family supports, and other essential programs and services," VIC's report says. The organization says, to give one example, that Department of Human Services funding for community-based providers has been cut by about 20 percent over the past two years, meaning "significant service reductions" in mental health, developmental disabilities, and community health and prevention programs.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, in its latest budget pitch, has proposed big cuts to federal programs that lower-income households use. Those proposals are not as drastic as a Republican proposal emerging from the House of Representatives, though many Washington lawmakers are focused resolutely on austerity measures despite broad popular support for spending on the vast majority of government programs.
With child poverty trends going the wrong way and state lawmakers beginning debate about the new budget cycle, now's probably a good time to re-read our report on the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty. Among other measures, the commission suggested that the state triple its Earned Income Tax Credit, make it easy for people to access anti-poverty initiatives like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, invest in early childhood education, and bump up enforcement of existing labor laws.