Familes Are Under Pressure From Every Direction

By Mike Cyr
    (RPC) 6/23/10 — Twenty years from now, where will you be? Where will any of us be? You could be lying on the beach, shaking the sand from between your toes with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. You could be comfortably retired with a loved one by your side and a late model roadster parked in the driveway, with money in the bank to spare. Hopefully that's the case, but life is full of surprises, and more often than not it resembles for many people a hastily constructed bowl of ersatz, so-so party mix, a brute synthesis of choice, luck, happenstance and intrigue. Actuarial science and credit rating formulas may be able to predict with some degree of accuracy what percentage of a group of like subjects will have an accident or default on a loan, but outside the realm of abstract mathematics individual human beings are another matter entirely.
    Surprising twists of fate can trash the insights of even the most gifted “prophet.”
The states of Illinois, Missouri, and specifically the counties within the greater St. Louis metropolitan region are a very good representation of this mix. We see the development and the growth in traffic. We see the buildings go up and developments too root. What we don’t often see are the scores of disenfranchised, destitute, shut-in and dirt-poor families who die young, scrape for every slice of bread they eat and depend on the good graces of others just to stay alive - despite doing everything they can to do everything right. Some people may, you say, have done it to themselves through poor choices and unhealthy lifestyles. That much, however, is a case for debate in the face of centuries of discrimination, prejudice and cut-throat competition that has produced both scores of winners and an even great number of losers, deserving or not, within almost every human culture there is. Is it getting worse or better? What's the prognosis for the future? Let's look at the numbers.
    According to a report from a Heartland Alliance this past May, poverty in Illinois stands at the edge of a major catastrophe because of the serious cuts proposed in social services as the state struggles to knock down a deficit of roughly $13 billion.
    Writers Kristina Betinis and Naomi Spencer quote the non-profit advocacy organization thus: "The implications of massive service cuts to those experiencing poverty, many of whom rely on state-funded services in their communities literally for survival, particularly those in extreme poverty, will be nothing short of devastating."
    Slated for expiration at the end of this year is a preschool program that aides up to 20,000 children called Preschool for All. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit faces a similar fate, as noted by Betinis and Spencer.
    Also cited by the Alliance as being at risk:
  •  The Homeless Prevention Program affecting more than 11,500 households.
  •  Local developmental services affecting 44,000 or more people.
  •  Services and assistance relied upon by as many as 500,000 elderly residents which enables them to remain in their homes.
  • Mental health programs which, just three years ago, provided essential help to an estimated 180,000 people.
    The report cites an estimated 1.5 million Illinois residents, 535,000 of them children, who were considered to be living in poverty in 2008, with 2 million more at risk. That was before the recession hit and when unemployment was below 6 percent. How many today are just hanging by a thread? Or living paycheck to paycheck?
    A number of factors are cited which have clearly exacerbated the state's problems. One has been the gradual and progressive loss of manufacturing and the replacing of high-paying jobs with low to moderate ones. An estimated 203,000 well-paying jobs in manufacturing, 8,600 in construction and 5,100 in service industries bit the dust in the first eight years of the century. Others factors cited:
  • Dramatic increases in poverty across wide areas in 63 of the state's 102 counties.
  • A worsening of poverty due to a serious lack of public transportation in many areas.
  • Bankruptcy filings which have ballooned exponentially from years past. Cook County's 2008 rate was up 168 percent in 2008 from 2006. DuPage County's was up 249 percent and Kane County's up by 266 percent.
  • A sharp rise in the number of home foreclosures, putting the state at number 10 in the nation.
  • An average individual indebtedness in 2009 of $11,300.
  • Twenty-five percent of all households in the state had not one speck of savings  -- one out of every four people.
  • An increase in the number of foreclosures in the state from 2007-2009 of more than 100 percent.
    The report cites the deadly, three-part effects of inadequate wages, unemployment and less-than adequate employment that continues to grow.
    For an interesting look at the U.S. Census Bureau's stats on Illinois, listing the percentage of residents living below the poverty line at a "mere" 12.2 percent in 2008 compared to the U.S. average of 13.2 percent, see: Illinois Data.  (photo courtesy of free-extras.com)