Poverty, Taxes, and Debating Tax Policy

The Daily Eastern News has published an article looking closely at the upcoming general election, the views of candidates on tax policy, and local initiatives to implement a facilities tax for the public schools.  These are VERY important issues, and worth understanding completely before voting on March 18.



Food Insecurity Article in the Daily Eastern News

The Daily Eastern News, the newspaper on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, published the second in a series of article looking at poverty and food insecurity in Coles County.  Here is the latest article in the series: Food Insecurity Widespread in Coles County.

There is also an article in the print edition about the Hunger Action Team, a campus organization fighting food insecurity and poverty on campus and in the community.

I, again, am grateful to Michael Spencer for the self-imposed challenging task of writing about these issues.

DEN News 07-Feb-2014

The Daily Eastern News, the newspaper on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, is starting a series on poverty in Coles County.  Here is the first article in the series: Food Insecurity, Poverty Rates High in Coles County

I am grateful to Michael Spencer for the self-imposed challenging task of writing about these issues.

New Infographic for 2012

Using American Community Survey Data from 2008-2012, the latest CCPDP Infographic shows continued elevated levels of poverty and food insecurity, especially when compared to state-wide and nation-wide numbers.


CCPDP Copy Food Insecurity Copy 2012 (2014 Update) Combined (2)


One point detailed in this graphic is the large gap between 130% of poverty for those families who are eligible for federal food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the 185% level of income where individuals and families are still at increased risk of not having enough to eat.  over ten percent of all Coles County families fall into this gap, and for families with children, nearly 1 in 7 families – 14.5% – face increased risk but limited access to food assistance.

While more detailed poverty maps are on their way, this infographic represents the latest analysis of the most recently available data.

Enjoy, and please feel free to comment with your thoughts.






Upcoming Public Lecture


Professor Michael Gillespie to lecture on Central Illinois Poverty and Hunger

at Lake Land College

 January 15, 2014

Lake Land College will host Michael Gillespie, assistant professor of Sociology at Eastern Illinois University, on Tuesday, Jan. 28 from 1 – 2 p.m. Gillespie will present  “The Geography of Poverty and Hunger: The Case in East Central Illinois” in the Lake Land College theater.

Topics of discussion include:

• How statistics and social policies can be used to better understand the percent of the population that is poor and food insecure.

• Data description and GIS mapping in different areas of Coles County.

• How the presentation of statistics can help individuals to understand the east central Illinois region, more specifically Coles County.

• The process of collecting, analyzing, and using statistics for advocacy and applied work.

This event is free and open to the public. For more details, contact Stephanie Medley-Rath, Lake Land College sociology instructor at smedleyrath@lakeland.cc.il.


The War on Poverty, Coles County, and Addressing Local Conditions

The year 2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of the “War on Poverty”, the federal government’s attempt to, in the words of President Johnson at his January 8, 2014 State of the Union Address, “not only relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” Johnson, like so many politicians, bureaucrats, activists, and members of the general population, was not interested in a system of handouts, but for means which the poor could use to lift themselves out of poverty. Poverty was a personal, individual issue, explaining why interventions sought to address individual ‘symptoms’.

The poverty rate across the country in 1964 was 19 percent, but the percentage of poor persons fell rapidly through next decade to near 10 percent where, until the Great Recession, it remained relatively low. New programs, such as food assistance, employment programs, and health care countered poverty’s symptoms and, arguably, prevented an epidemic. However, after many of these programs changed or disappeared through the 1980s up to the 2007 economic downturn, the percent of individuals officially poor increased. In 2012, 15 percent of individuals are poor, which includes 21.8 percent of children under 18 and 9.1 percent of persons 65 years and older.

Yet these are national figures and, as the War on Poverty correctly aspired, poverty and its related issues such as food insecurity, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, and health, are local, and best understood and addressed within local conditions. This was the point of Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity, command central for coordinating and funding local action agencies at the front-lines of the battle.

The national poverty figures have not changed in the previous two years, but the situation here in Coles County could not be more different. The US Census Bureau’s most current Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE), the most efficient annual measurements of poverty for places such as Coles County, Illinois, which have a population lower than 50,000, shows 11,309 persons, 22.9 percent of all individuals are poor. Compared to Illinois (14.7%) and the U.S. as a whole (15.9%), Coles County’s poverty level dwarfs the state and country.

Further the percent of poor Coles County children less than 18 years of age stands at 25.5 percent, and 24.9 percent of school-aged children 5-17 years old are poor. Again, these figures are higher than the estimates for the state and the country showing the reality of poverty—especially childhood poverty—here in Coles County.

The most recent Census Bureau 5-year rolling estimates mirror these single-year trends: on average, the percent of poor individuals in Coles County from 2008 through 2012 is 22.0 percent, compared with 13.7 percent for Illinois and 14.9 percent for the country. Our county’s elevated 5-year average poverty rates of 12.1 percent for families and 24.4 percent for children also outpace state- and federal-level averages, but the percent of poor elderly persons 65 years and older of 6.7 percent is lower than Illinois (8.6 percent) and the country (9.4 percent).

Underlying these data is one revealing disparity in the economic conditions here in Coles County. The annual average unemployment rate in the county matches the country and the state over time, and, for 2012, is the same as Illinois (8.9 percent) and slightly higher than the United States (8.1 percent). However, having a job does not translate to a living wage; comparing median family incomes shows Coles County at $56,988, nearly fourteen thousand dollars less than $70,144 for Illinois and over seven thousand dollars lower than $64,585 for the United States. For households, these disparities remain: the median household income in Coles County, $38,088, is over eighteen-thousand dollars lower than Illinois ($56,853) and nearly fifteen thousand lower than the country ($53,046).

Often, persons and commentators who malign poverty programs and poor individuals and families argue that a lack of personal responsibility and individual initiative breeds dependence and a culture of reliance and addiction on government handouts. The War on Poverty, fifty years ago, was built on these assumptions. However, comparing unemployment and median incomes challenges these myths. In Coles County, individuals and family breadwinners are working, but for significantly less money than peers in the state and around the country. Rather, in this context, only 55 percent of poor households in our county receive SNAP benefits, half of these households have at least one wage-earner and half have children.

In recent months, federal funding for these food and nutrition services, as well as long-term unemployment benefits, has been slashed. They sustain, on a daily basis, those in our community in need—employed or not—but are now offering only insecurities. This is why programs and services—food pantries and kitchens, as well as shelters, re-sale shops, health and nutrition services, schools and school-based relief, and veterans and senior services, to name but a few—are of immediate and vital importance to our community. These programs, already stretched thin, do not offer handouts but services to relieve the impacts of poverty and aid in preserving the dignity of our most needy community members.

Self-sufficiency through employment is important, but having a job that pays a wage with which a household can adequately be maintained is another; employment is visible in Coles County, but the ability to support a family is still lacking. Where some commentators, both locally and nationally, write that the “war on poverty” has failed, perhaps it is high time to establish a new front in this battle, and do so locally in Coles County. This battle should focus on systemic and contextual change, rather than misguided individual diagnoses. To paraphrase President Johnson, we should fight to “not only relieve the social conditions sustaining poverty, but to change them and, above all, to prevent them.”

New Local Poverty Estimates for Coles County: Decreasing Incomes, Rising Poverty

Recently, the US Census Bureau released the current Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) which are reported annually for the administration of federal programs and the allocation of federal funds to local jurisdictions.  Each year these data estimate the income and poverty at the state, county, and school district level, and outline the incidence of poverty for the population, all children, and school-aged children in poor families.

SAIPE data are important for two predominant reasons: they are used by federal, state, and local policy makers and analysts because they represent ‘official’ administrative data; second, for places such as Coles County, Illinois, which have population counts lower than 50,000, they are the most efficient annual measurements of poverty and include school district level data on the level of poverty for children aged 5 through 17.

Based on the current SAIPE data for Coles County, 11,309 persons, 22.9 percent of all individuals of all ages are living in poverty; from 2003 through 2012, there is a 78.4% increase in the number of individuals who are poor.  Compared to data for Illinois and the U.S. as a whole, as shown in Figure 1 below, over the past decade Coles County’s rising poverty level is outpacing the state and country.

Figure 1

The percent of children 18 years of age and younger in poverty in Coles County stands at 25.5%, or 2436 persons, which has increased 58.8% from 2003 and 56.9% from 2007.  For school-aged children 5 through 17 years old, 1703 or 24.9% are poor, showing an increase in number of poor students of 70.6% from 2003 and 71.7% from 2007.  Figures 2 and 3 show these trends compared with the State of Illinois and the United States, which like Figure 1, are comparatively lower than Coles County.

Figure 2 Figure 3

Underlying these trends, however, is one more important data point: the median household income.  The typical income of households in Coles County is currently $36,093.00; when adjusted for inflation, this income is 14.4% lower than the median household income in 2003 ($42,166.69) and 9.48% lower than 2007 ($39,871.29).  Figure 4 depicts this trend compared with the median income at current dollars for each year since 2003.

Figure 4

It is clear that incomes for families, remaining relatively flat over the past decade, are impacting the ability of individuals and families to prosper.  Moreover, with one-quarter of all school-aged children living in poverty, future generations may continue to experience the struggle to make ends meet.

Research has consistently shown that growing up in a household that lacks an adequate income and stable set of resources translates into lasting impacts on a child’s social, emotional, physiological, and economic development.  Because food and nutrition are essential to the ability to thrive, let alone survive, social programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can alleviate some of these insecurities.  Yet even if with the security and stability of even a subsistence diet, the incidence of poverty, for example, increases parental stress which in turn impacts their decision-making capacities and their ability to foster the development of their children.  In turn, for children, poverty increases the chance they will develop behavioral problems and impact their academic achievement, decreases their chances of upward mobility in adulthood, and increases the likelihood of future economic struggles.

Poverty is increasing in Coles County.  The economic stability of families is falling.  Given that the typical household income has not grown over the past decade, these trends do not promise to show improvement any time soon.


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