Bad news: The Heartland Alliance produced a 2011 Report on Illinois Poverty, which states that nearly 1 in 3 Illinoisans are poor or low income. The 2010 Federal Poverty Threshold indicates a family of four with an income less than $22,314 lives in poverty. A family of four making $44,628 is low income.
In Illinois, pre-Great Recession (2007), our poverty rate was 11.9%. When the recession officially ended in January 2009, our rate was 13.3%. By 2010 it had risen to 13.8%.
The Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry deals in “food relief” and charts a similar history. The pantry supplies food to those in need. In 2008, 6,810 families/24,106 individuals were served. In 2009, the number of zip codes the pantry could service was restricted to 28, yet the numbers of families/individuals rose to 11,088/40,442. The numbers rose in 2010 and again in 2011.
In January 2012, the number of zip codes the pantry could service was reduced to 12. That year the pantry served 15,873 families/44,466 individuals. Because the pantry tracks by zip code, it was able to document service provided to Oak Park and River Forest residents: 20% of those served lived in those two communities.
Of the 3,200 students enrolled at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 537 received free meals and 118 received reduced-cost meals due to low family incomes. That’s 20.47% of the student population.
The high school also showed an achievement gap between non-low income (NLI) and low income (LI) students in tests taken by juniors. In 2012, NLI students scored 81.9% in reading, while LI students scored 41%. In math, NLI students scored 78%, while LI students scored 34%. In science, NLI students scored 77%, while LI students scored 35%, and in writing, NLI students scored 81%, while LI students scored 32%.
Good news: Poverty is structural and can be eliminated. In 1962, Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States, was published. This groundbreaking work made American poverty visible. It is credited with kick-starting America’s War on Poverty, launched by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The U.S. poverty rate declined from 19% in 1964 to a low of 11.1% in 1973.
More bad news: We gave up on fighting poverty and by the end of 2011, our poverty rate had risen to 15%.
On Sunday, there will be a free film showing of Michael Harrington and Today’s Other America: Corporate Power and Inequality. Directed by Bill Donovan and released in 2001, the film documents changes to the socio-economic landscape since the publication of Harrington’s book.
Following the film, there will be a Q&A session with Michele Zurakowski, executive director, Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry and Bill Barclay of the Democratic Socialists of America.
The film will be shown at 2 p.m., April 28, at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St.
Peg Strobel and Tom Broderick are members of the Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America.