Archive | November 2013

2012 Census Estimates!

In the past week, the US Census Bureau released the three-year average estimates of the American Community Survey.  This release is the first to include areas with populations of 20,000 or higher.  Five-year estimates will be released in late 2013, and will include data for census tracts across all populations and geographic areas.

Based on these 3-year estimates, the number of poor individuals in Coles County is now 11,600, up from 10,944 in 2011 and from 9,456 in 2007; as a result, the percent of individuals living in poverty in Coles County has risen to 23.44% in 2012, an increase of 22.67% over the past six years (2007 to 2012)

Further, the number of individuals living in food insecurity in Coles County also increased, rising from 20,030 (40.81%) in 2011 to 20,919 (42.28%) in 2012.  From 2007, where the number of food insecure individuals was 17,186, there is a 21.72% increase to 2012.

The following graph depicts these changes over time:

Poverty and Food Insecurity 2007-2012 Coles County Individuals

When focusing on families, the growth in poverty and food insecurity is also severe.  In 2012, the number of poor families in Coles County is 1,411–12.5% of all families– up from 1,344 (11.5%) in 2011; this is a 14.07% increase from the 1,237 poor families (10.5%) in 2007.

Likewise, the number of food insecure families increased nominally from 3,153 (26.69%) in 2011 to 3,156 (27.96%) in 2012.  The percent change in the number of food insecure families from 2007 to 2012 shows a 3.14% increase, however.

The following graph depicts the growth in impoverished and food insecure families in Coles County from 2007 to 2012:

Poverty and Food Insecurity 2007-2012 Coles County Families

In comparison to the United States and the state of Illinois, Coles County has a population of individuals as well as families that live in poverty and at-risk of food insecurity with hunger at higher proportions.  The following graph shows these comparisons:

Poverty and Food Insecurity 2012 Coles County in Comparison1

In 2012, Coles County had a higher percent of the individual population in poverty than Illinois by nearly nine percentage points and seven and three-quarter percentage points over the United States.  However, the difference in the individual and family populations living with food insecurity is more stark.  Over 2 in 5 individuals in Coles County, 42.28%, are food insecure; this is more than twelve and one-half percentage points greater than the state and ten percentage points greater than the country.  These differences are mirrored when comparing families: for Coles County, 27.96% of families are food insecure, four and one-half percentage points greater than Illinois and well over two percentage points greater than the United States.


Guest Column, 06-Nov-2013, JG-TC

Cutting SNAP and a Call to Action

I submitted the following letter this morning to the editor of the Charleston/Mattoon Journal-Gazette/Time-Courier.


Effective November 1, 2013, extensions to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) implemented in response to the great recession expired and the maximum monthly benefit for an individual receiving SNAP assistance was reduced by $11.00 from $200.00 per month to $189.00 per month.  For a family of four, the maximum benefit was reduced by $36.00 from $668.00 to $632.00 per family.  Despite these being the maximum benefit, few individuals and families actually receive the full amount; rather, according to the U.S.D.A., the typical benefit level in Illinois is approximately seventy percent of this allotment, meaning individuals receive, on average, $129.00 per month, and families of four receive, on average, $430.00.  When all said and done, these typical benefit amounts allow for $1.53 per meal per individual or $5.12 per meal for a family of four.


These figures are not without local importance to us in Charleston, Mattoon, and the greater East-Central Illinois Region.  Based on my research through the Coles County Poverty Data Project (, one in five individuals in our county have an income low enough to be officially counted as poor and nearly two in five persons have an income that places them at-risk of going to bed hungry, not knowing from where their next meal may come, and if obtained, that this meal is nutritionally adequate.  Moreover, one-quarter of our Coles County families are food insecure with incomes below 185% of poverty—approximately $42,182 for a family of four with two children.  However, SNAP benefits only cover those with incomes up to 130% of the federal poverty line, approximately $29,641 per year; these families are now making ends meet with lower benefits.  Historically, food assistance in our country has always functioned as a supplement to a person’s or family’s income and other resources; the mentality of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility is a major thread in our collective consciousness.  However, Coles County has a median household income just over $40,000, which is ten-thousand less than the national figure and nearly thirteen-thousand less than the state of Illinois; despite comparable levels of unemployment, the economic resources of our families lag behind the state and the country.


As my research shows, 15% of Coles County families have incomes low enough to qualify for SNAP benefits, but also exposes a food assistance gap, affecting 10% of all families and 6% of families with children, who are at imminent risk but without immediate access to public relief.  This gap, the families with incomes between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty line, are chronically at-risk of missing meals and waking in the morning not knowing whether there will be an adequate breakfast.  These families, without publicly funded support, are exactly those who receive the help they need from private and not-for-profit programs and services in our community.  While some governmental programs exist for special populations living in food insecure households, such as free and reduced-price meal programs for public school students and a food and nutrition program for pregnant women and new mothers of infants, there is no standard public program for the general population. 


Yet, as the holiday season begins, and public support wanes, there will be rise in those seeking assistance from what limited resources will be available: community programs sustained not by federal dollars, but by the generosity of citizens and volunteers.  Individuals and families are increasingly turning to places like the Mattoon Community Food Center, Charleston Area Churches Food Pantry, and Standing Stone Community Center to obtain some level of food security. 


Eastern Illinois University’s Hunger Action Team is using the month of November as a call to action to educate and advocate for those who are poor, hunger, and face insecurity each day.  Through food drives, movie screenings, public educational activities, a SNAP Challenge for persons to test their resolve living on a food stamp budget, and the serving of hot food to those in need, this dedicated group of students, staff, and faculty are taking on hunger and food insecurity in our community.   You can learn more about these events at and refer to the information under the “Hunger Challenge 2013” menu.


The time is right to address the issues of poverty and hunger in Coles County.  More important, as we prepare for our holiday feasts with family and friends, we should not only pause to just remember those in need, but to do something to alleviate the impacts of poverty and food insecurity.  Our community is depending on it.


Michael D. Gillespie, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois

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