Even though the Illinois Constitution identifies the elimination of poverty as a fundamental goal of state government, there has been no comprehensive strategy for addressing poverty across the state. On December 9, 2010, that changed when the IL Commission on the Elimination of Poverty released its report. Thanks to their work over the past year, Illinois now has a strategic plan for reducing the number of persons living in extreme poverty by 50% by the year 2015.
The plan comes not a moment too soon. Poverty has been rising steadily in Illinois since 1999. According to the American Community Survey, recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of persons living in poverty across the state has increased by 24% since 1999. In other words, the 1999 poverty rate in Illinois was 10.7%, but by 2008 the rate was up to 12.2%. There was another jump upward in 2009—13.3% of Illinoisans now live in poverty. That’s a total of 1,677,093 individuals, half of whom live in extreme poverty (50% of the federal poverty level).
In an audio webcast on December 10, 2010, Representative Karen Yarbrough and Representative Robert Pritchard, both members of the Commission, were asked to identify their favorite recommendations in the plan. Representative Pritchard cited two: the elimination of the child care co-payment for those working parents who live in extreme poverty and increasing access to higher education for persons living in poverty. Representative Yarbrough indicated that she would not identify one or two specific recommendations. Instead, she said, “The system created this problem so the system can fix it. We have to take all the pieces of the plan because they create a whole [that will reduce extreme poverty].”
The Commission made recommendations in three major categories:
Living with Dignity focuses on those persons who unable or not expected to work, e.g., children, frail seniors, and persons with severe disabilities.
Making Work Accessible proposes solutions for persons who are able to work but disconnected from the work force.
Making Work Pay creates strategies for those individuals who are working but still live in extreme poverty because their wages are so low.
Some recommendations require administrative changes at the state level while others focus on data analysis and technological upgrades—all, first steps toward creating solutions for the workers, individuals, and families— 760,000 in 2009—who struggle with extreme poverty on a daily basis. Many recommendations call for legislative action. Representative Yarbrough said, “The next challenge is to convince the General Assembly to muster the will to implement the plan.”
Be assured that we at PCG commit ourselves to that important agenda. We will work diligently in two areas: first, to generate public support for the reduction of poverty and, simultaneously, convince legislators to take the necessary action to build that pathway to dignity and work, particularly those who live in extreme poverty.