Responding to a new report from the Center for American Progress a few weeks back, One Story Up blogger Megan Cottrell emphasized
the need to change the way the federal government measures poverty in
America. Few would argue that the formula for determining how much
Responding to a new report from the Center for American Progress a few weeks back, One Story Up blogger Megan Cottrell emphasized the need to change the way the federal government measures poverty in America. Few would argue that the formula for determining how much income people need to survive in the 21st century economy is outdated. But public officials have plenty of self-serving reasons to keep the poverty count low. After all, acknowledging the flawed formula would only expose the gaping holes in the nation's social safety net.
Researchers at the Social Impact Research Center (formerly the Heartland Alliance Mid-America Institute on Poverty) are tired of hiding the economically insecure. In a new report, "Getting By & Getting Ahead: The 2009 Illinois Self-Sufficiency Standard," the nonprofit examines the true cost of everyday expenses in the Land of Lincoln -- housing, food, child care, health care, transportation, taxes, and discretionary spending -- and then identifies the threshold for financial independence. According to their research, the average single parent with a pre-schooler and a school-age child in Illinois must earn $23.22 per hour ($15 more than the prevailing minimum wage) to reach self-sufficiency. In Chicago, the standard jumps to $24.80. And a review of their work only confirms the struggle faced by Illinois' working poor.
More than one million non-senior citizen households earn less than $49,030 a year, the baseline annual salary required to make ends meet without public assistance. Moreover, upwards of 650,000 households earn more than the current poverty level but less than the self-sufficiency standard. On the Heartland Alliance blog, Tim Klein makes a keen observation: "For these families, near-impossible decisions must be made":
Do you cut housing costs by moving into more affordable housing, but risk your family's safety since those units are typically in high-crime areas? Or, do you cut back on child care, but then risk losing your job since you'd then have to constantly scramble to find someone to watch your child while you are at work?
Do you buy less food, allowing your family to go hungry, or do you cut down on health care, putting the entire family at risk?
Accompanying the report's release is a helpful new website offering plenty of additional resources to interested citizens and policymakers. These include a web-based calculator that "will help you budget and plan for the true cost of living in your community" and fact-sheets synthesizing the data for over 100 cities across the state. Be sure to check it out.
Image used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user litherland.