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Child Poverty Over 30% In Chicago, As Recession Cripples Families

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A new report has shed light on some heartbreaking statistics on child poverty. Among them: nearly a third of Chicago children live below the poverty line.

"That's a standard of living that's barely comprehensible to many of us," said Kathleen Ryg, president of Voices for Illinois Children, the group that conducted the report. "It's really a tough time to be a kid."

In 2008, over 500,000 children in Illinois lived in poverty, Almost 250,000 were living in deep poverty, a condition defined as below half the federal poverty level.

This adds up to one in five Illinois children living in poverty, according to the report. Those numbers are roughly in line with nationwide statistics. But in Illinois's largest cities, the figures are much worse. Rockford, the third-largest city in the state, faces a staggering 34 percent child poverty rate. And Chicago's 31 percent represents tens of thousands of families across the city struggling just to feed their children.

The report describes case studies from around the city:

Another mother in her thirties says that after paying the utilities and rent, it's hard to keep a gallon of milk in the refrigerator. With winter fast approaching, she isn't sure how her family will make it with the higher gas bills. Another says her family is having a hard time paying for the CTA bus, which her daughter must take everyday to school. She often goes without lunch money. Other mothers nod in recognition. Many teens, they say, want to drop out of school and go to work to help their families.

Some rural areas had even more striking proportions of child poverty. Alexander County is located in the very south of the state, on the border with Missouri; its population is just under 10,000. 44 percent of children in the county lived in poverty as of 2008, the worst figures of any county in the state.

And the figures for asset poverty were even more bleak. Asset poverty is a condition in which a person or family doesn't have enough assets (usually savings) to survive for 12 weeks without income; it represents vulnerability to job loss or other destabilizing conditions.

More than half of single mothers with children at home lived in asset poverty in Illinois. With jobs still disappearing across the state, this is a vast swath of families whose fortunes could turn at any moment.

Matters are made worse, of course, by the budget crisis facing Illinois. The state's deficit is equal to more than half its operating budget; the red ink is pegged at roughly $12.8 billion dollars.

For that reason, Kathleen Ryg of Voices supports Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed income tax increase of roughly 50 percent. The tax hikes have drawn flak from Quinn's likely Republican opponent in November, Bill Brady. But Ryg said that in order to balance the budget without raising taxes, "it would require mass elimination of vital state services and programs and create serious, even more devastating harm, to the children and families who are already experiencing struggles.

"It is obvious that if we want to protect the priorities, it will require generating more adequate revenue," she said.