Poverty in Champaign County

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Chicago, has just released its report on poverty in Illinois
and in individual counties. The statewide reporting is
based upon 2006 data. The picture is not very pretty.
Overall, poverty increased in Illinois from 10.7% of the
population in 1999 to 12.3% in 2006.
Poverty is not random across groups. Extreme poverty
is defined as living on an annual income or less that onehalf
of the federal poverty line, or below $10,000 dollars
for a family of four. Nearly half of the people in extreme
poverty in this state are either children, seniors, or people
with disabilities. The overall picture is:
• 680,000, or 5.8% of our population lives in
extreme poverty.
• 853,063, or 6.8%, live between 50% and 100% of
the poverty line
Another 2,004,651, are classified as being “at risk” of
falling into poverty. These are people who live between
100% and 150% of the poverty level (988,100, or 7.9% of
the population), and those who live between 150% and
200% of the poverty line (1,016,551 or 8.1% of the population.
These two latter categories combine made up 16%
of the state’s population. In addition, the data reveals a
severe racial and gender disparity in poverty in our state.
The report does not break down the data by race or
gender for Champaign County, but the aggregate data are
nonetheless significant. In 2005, there were 29,800 people
in this county were living in poverty. The poverty rate was
17.7%, well above the overall state rate of 12%. The
monthly earnings in the county for new hires had fallen
4.6% between 2004 and 2005. In 2006, the average wage
per job was $33,051, compared with the overall state average
wage of $45,032. Given the presence of the university
and the medical facilities here, this is a surprisingly low
average wage. In August 2007, the unemployment rate
was 4.9%, slightly below the overall state rate of 5.2%.
Current (2008) data on rental housing show that the
estimated mean hourly wage of a renter in this county is
$9.01, which is below the poverty line ($9.60) for a family
of four. However, the wage needed to rent a two-bedroom
apartment is $12.73. A person working just at the
Illinois minimum wage would have to work 68 hours a
week at the state’s minimum wage to be able to afford such
an apartment in the area.
What the data reveal is that poverty is a serious problem
in both the state and the county; that such poverty is
unevenly distributed across lines of race, gender, age, and
ability/disability; and that poverty has become increasingly
serious in the first 8 years of the Twenty-First Century.
Economic policies at the national level have “trickled
down” to the states and local communities causing greater
and greater poverty.
These policies have destroyed the last vestiges of a safety
net and cut back on positive initiatives in health and
education that both help people climb out of poverty and
offer care to those so vulnerable that they cannot do so.
The recent cut in Medicaid, which is so threatening to our
county nursing home, is just one example of the meanspirited
public policies that have been imposed on this
country, this state, and this county since 2000.
Of course, while poverty of both the employed and the
unemployed has increased, public policy has seen to it that
the rich have become richer to a morally obscene extent.
While most of the data in the report are from 2006 or earlier,
the situation has become increasingly dire as prices of
food, fuel, utilities, and access to medical care and insurance
have continued to soar, leaving poor communities in
Champaign County more vulnerable than ever.

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