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Illinois Poverty Levels Continue To Surge Upward, New Data Shows

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Some depressing statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau Tuesday show that Illinois is currently home to more poor people than was the case nearly two decades ago.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, more than 1.82 million people lived at or below the poverty level in Illinois last year compared to 1.69 million in the year before -- percentage-wise, that's an increase of 14.1 percent from 13.2 percent in 2009.

While Illinois' poverty rate is high, it is still lower than the current national average, which is a whopping 15.1 percent, or just more than 46 million Americans. The number is the highest-ever since the Census Bureau began reporting poverty rates in 1959.

The number of uninsured Illinois residents is also on the rise. The Sun-Times reports that 1.91 million people, or 14.8 percent of the state's population last year are without health insurance, up from 14.2 percent or 1.81 million in 2009. Relatedly, the number of long-term unemployed Illinoisans, those who have not found a job in more than 26 weeks of searching, is also at a near-record high.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the poverty figures are being felt locally at food pantries, low-income resource centers and homeless shelters throughout the Chicagoland area. Bob Dolgan, a spokesman for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said his organization, which operates some 650 shelters and pantries in the area said they've serviced 5.1 million individual visits during the most recent fiscal year. Three years ago, that number was only 3.2 million.

As recently as 1999, the Illinois' poverty rate was just 10.7 percent. According to a report issued late last year by the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, emphasized that child poverty rates and "extreme poverty" rates -- the number of those living on less than half the federal poverty threshold -- has also been steadily on the rise over the past decade.

The Census Bureau defines poverty as having a household income of $11,139 or less for one person and $22,314 for a family of four. Without unemployment insurance or other government assistance, the reported poverty rate would have been even higher.

According to the Associated Press, University of Chicago professor Bruce Meyer said the worst still be coming down the pike in terms of poverty levels both in Illinois and nationwide as demand continues to increase for food stamps and other government assistance -- a safety net that is under serious threat of drastic cutbacks given the state's dire financial straits.

Photo by gregorywass via Flickr.

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