Poverty is very much with us, but we can eradicate it

Opinion: Columns

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Peg Strobel and Tom Broderick

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.

Reader Comments

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4 Freedom  

Posted: April 30th, 2013 8:48 AM

You have convinced me I am not worthy. Nothing like someone with a double-standard to back down when he is called out. Let's talk after you look in the mirror and come out of you tower.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 30th, 2013 8:22 AM

I'll leave you to your thoughts.

4 Freedom  

Posted: April 30th, 2013 8:21 AM

Much of the income in offshore accounts was generated through sales offshore. It's hard to justify why the US is entitled to any of it. US is one of a very few countries that taxes income generated over seas. As for corporate handouts I agree they create ineffecient situations and tempt politicians to ask for favors. However, when you have a state like IL with a high cost of doing business, its hard to attract and keep businesses offering quality jobs.

4 Freedom  

Posted: April 30th, 2013 7:06 AM

There goes Jim again thinking he's the authority and judge of what's good and what's considered civil discourse. Funny, Jim by implying that my discourse is uncivil is a cheap shot in itself. I never called you names or attacked you personally. All I did was challenge your perspective. Now, I don't intend to hurt anyone. So, I will change my tone if that is what you are referring to.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 30th, 2013 2:42 AM

Jim is correct, big companies have been shielded from their fair share of taxes. On the other hand it has kept some companies in Illinois that would have left, creating or keeping jobs for our fellow Illinoisans. The result, it keeps many people out of poverty and off the government rolls and it makes the company execs. very rich. Probably richer than they deserve to be. Having said that, large companies have our state and local governments in a noose.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 11:30 PM

I'm not hinting anything. Income disparity is a serious problem in this country. The rest of your post on this subject seems to be an attempt to ridicule. That is not an effective debate technique and does not provide support for your position. I would willing be to read a justification for General Electric's tax avoidance. Over the past ten years, GE made $88 billion and paid an average of less than 3%. in four out those ten years, this multi-national corporation paid zero. They did however receive $20 billion in government contracts and still pays no US taxes on the billions it keeps in offshore accounts. That's corporate welfare. More examples? Look at 2012. Citibank, Bank of America, FedEx,Microsoft, Verizon and Pfizer reported incomes totaling in excess of $500 billion that were effectively shielded from US taxes. Again, please direct your focus on the discussion without resorting to singling me or anyone else out for a cheapshot. I'm willing to engage in a civil discourse but hestitate to continue without assurances that the nonsense will stop.

4 Freedom  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 10:22 PM

Speedway, you and Voilet made my point. Poverty is real as Jim says but the definition is different for everyone. You should be able to address your conscience as you see fit and others the same. No executive is forcing Jim to buy the products from the company that pays the CEO excessively. No one is stopping Jim for forming an organization to help those in need. But he feels that he can ask the government to force people into his moral paradigm in the name of fairness which is subjective.

4 Freedom  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 10:10 PM

Jim, you are hinting that we need more government policy to address income disparity. While we are at it why don't we also tackle intelligence disparity. Let's make sure everyone lives on a beach too. Let's make sure everyone has great parents and fun cousins too. Let's make sure everyone is born just at the right time. Let's make sure everyone has a turn to be President and let everyone be a doctor if they want. Let's also ignore the fact there are consequences to taxing corporations too.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 9:43 PM

Poverty is not an idea but a reality. I'm not sure if you are in favor of the notion that all should pay their fair share or if having the wherewithal and resources to game the system is a perfectly acceptable practice. Rather than trying to toss jabs at me; focus on the issues of income disparity and how tax avoidance by multi-national corporations eventually shifts the burden on to others. We can agree that oversight of government spending should be imperative and regular review of existing programs is necessary. Let's tackle the issues of a lack of opportunity,equal access to services, and the need to level the playing field. Personal opinions regarding elected officials should not be part of the discussion if the aim is to assist those most in need.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 9:41 PM

I see poverty as not having enough food, a roof over our head; no heat, water or electricity, not having the availability of decent medical or dental care, not having friends or family to care about you. People need jobs to provide these basic needs, employment options are limited for some of these people. If you have more than these basic needs you are not impoverished, but instead are wishing for a better life.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 7:54 PM

Family of 4 making $42K? That is totally do-able. You might have to do without a car, everyone having a cell phone, satellite, and may even have to (gasp!) live in an apt. but how can that be considered low-income? A 2 br. apt. can be found for $1200 or less in the area. $42K - 20%= approx. $646 per week net. Take out half for rent and you have $346 to use for food, transportation and utilities. It might be tight but hardly bottom of the barrel stuff.

4 Freedom  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 7:42 PM

Jim, I am not saying that people should not be helped and that you should not try to convince others to help. What I am saying that asking government to take from others based on your ideals seems to me as immoral as not giving. Everyone's idea of poverty is different. Everyone's idea of who should be helped is different. Everyone's idea how much to help is different. Everyone's needs are different. Everyone's idea of what is most important is different. Why do you feel you can force it?

4 Freedom  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 7:32 PM

Jim, I don't envy your possession of absolute and perfect judgement over morality and are certain that forcing people to give up the money they have earned so that politicians can decide how it is used is the perfect option. How does it feel putting trust in politicians that they will never ask for favors and divy out the money to the best causes and most effective organizations despite the fact that the ones who earned may feel it was best for another? I must be hard knowing so much.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 3:50 PM

4 Freedom seeks to offer anecdotal evidence to support a position. Best to ignore such attempts and focus on the more than 40 million people in this country who live in poverty. The majority are children, seniors and persons with disabilities who live in rural communities and inner city neighborhoods. A lack of access to quality education,jobs, health care and safe housing are important contributing factors. What should not be ignored is the fact that income inequality in the US is the highest among developed nations. The share of income going to the top 1% of American families has lead to steady decline in the number of those who would be catagorized as middle class. There has not been a trickle down effect and the disparity continues to grow at an alarming rate. Hourly wage for the majority of workers have flatlined for more than 30 years. And while worker productivity has increased, those benefits have been realized only by multi-national corporations and their CEOs. Charitable organizations readily admit that they lack the resources to adequately address poverty in our country and have called on the government to increase support. Ending corporate welfare and requiring that these large businesses pay their fair share would be a positive first step.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: April 29th, 2013 2:17 PM

I agree with Brian. The able-bodied should be in a CCC/WPA type program. If in the first 6 months of FDR's administration 4 million folks were put to work then we should be able to put 10 million to work. 4 Freedom makes good points too. To address one: Look at the cost of poor folks now. Instead of seeking health care, which they can't afford, they end up in expensive emergency rooms. They suffer and we suffer. The children, who may not receive proper food end up suffering now and the future.

4 Freedom  

Posted: April 28th, 2013 9:53 PM

Two questions: Why has poverty increased since the 60's while so have various social programs? "Good news: Poverty is structural and can be eliminated." At the cost of what?

4 Freedom  

Posted: April 28th, 2013 9:45 PM

Bruce, I agree poor children are very unfortunate, but we give little incentive for their parents to be accountable. My cousin chooses to live below the poverty line and has 5 children all of which he pays no healthcare and receives other support as well. Society is bearing the cost of each child while he isn't. Something isn't right there. I choose to donate to programs that help people fix their situations versus supporting a growing lag on society as generic government assistance does.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: April 28th, 2013 7:04 PM

Bruce Samuels: very true. But shouldnt we as citizens be demanding more from our government in re waste duplication and fraud. God loves poor people because he made so many of us. Should healthy people who receive government benefits be required to do community service work in their own community like FDRs CCC OR WPA.? should benefits last forever?I will help the helpless,not the clueless or the hapless.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: April 28th, 2013 6:42 PM

Well some of you constitute a fine group with most of the cynics not willing to use their names. Most of the welfare dollars in this country go to corporations and the well off. But then it's easier to attack the poor, most of whom are working and/or children.

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 5:56 PM

Better to be poor in the US than elsewhere. Americans living in what we call poverty have it pretty good next to the poor in developing countries. The truth is, we create a threshhold number to define what poverty is, but let's not compare the conditions facing less affluent Oak Parkers with people in sub-Saharan Africa who won't eat today. They don't need no stinkin' statistics to tell if they're living in poverty.

Friedman is dead  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 5:05 PM

I'm sorry #545, but all the data suggests otherwise. Raising the min wage has a negligible impact on employment in the short term and in long term increases it as the poor put their money back into the economy (as opposed to the rich), generating more employment. You really shouldn't have dropped out of Econ 101 before the midterm.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 4:53 PM

I'm sorry, Theresa, but raising the minimum wage will do nothing except hurt those you want to help. It will result in more unemployment, especially for minorities & teens. It's being pushed by folks like SEIU as a means to get more dues, & nothing else. This is complex, with both sides of the "Jesus" quotes being correct to a degree. Reality is that a growing economy, where the free market can thrive, is the only way to effectively reduce poverty.

get away thee  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 4:34 PM

Matt 26:11 was not an invitation to ignore the poor. Quite the opposite, for you will be judged on how you treat the poor. It is unfortunate how satan-worshippers abuse the words of Jesus.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 4:27 PM

Let's all pray for an end to poverty. Amen


Posted: April 24th, 2013 4:18 PM

Raising the minimum wage would go far to stabilize a home, reduce dependency on assistance, and improve nutrition, which contribute to better educational outcomes. There were a number of demonstrations today in support of raising the minimium wage. An increase to the minimum wage nationally would be a great boost to our economy also.

Jesus Also Said...  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 3:13 PM

"The poor you will always have with you..." (Matt 26:11) So I'm not so sure about the premise we can suddenly eradicate the poor here in 2013.

KR from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 3:10 PM

I'm surprised a full 20% of high school kids are low income. Where do these kids live? The HS website says a family of four needs to have an income below $42,600 for free/reduced lunch. How can you afford to live in OP or RF with such a low income? I smell a high level of fraud/abuse.


Posted: April 24th, 2013 3:05 PM

"'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

LaShaun Jones from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 2:31 PM

I used to work for 9 dollars per hour but now have me a link card, section 8 housing, free before and after school meals, free scooter, free medical and dental, and pay no income or property tax. Ask me about any daytime tv show - my favorite is Judge Judy


Posted: April 24th, 2013 1:20 PM

also, there are many people are working poor - they make $9-12 which qualifies them for food stamps. They come from families with little education - and cant afford it . so dont preach - until you wlaked in their shoes


Posted: April 24th, 2013 1:18 PM

Poverty is an extremely complex issue - simply telling some to pull themselves up by bootstraps may not work - what if they don't have any. also, many who are quick to chime self help are the very people who's parents paid for education etc.

Margaret McCarthy  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 12:32 PM

"Give man a fish and feed him for one day; teach him to fish and you feed him for life." Still true. Poverty will continue to spread if more and more able-bodied people stop working and rely on others to pay higher taxes or make donations to support them. Improved education and stable families readying their children to be able to support themselves is the way to reduce poverty. Caring for one's own elderly or disabled will also protect those who truly cannot help themselves.

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