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How poor are we?

Poverty is an increasing problem in Illinois, with a recent study showing one in three people in Illinois are living in or near poverty levels.

Amy Rynell, senior director for the Social IMPACT Research Center, said more than one in five children in Illinois are considered poor, and the situation is not getting better. The poverty study was released Jan. 16 by the Chicago-based Social IMPACT Research Center, which is a division of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights.

“The situation has only gotten worse in recent years, with poverty among all ages rising from 11.9 percent in 2007 to 15.0 percent most recently,”  Rynell said.

Hopefully, the recent report will provide reliable information about the scope and scale of poverty in Illinois so that state and local leaders, concerned citizens, businesses, communities of faith, and community-based organizations will have a better sense of how to approach ending poverty at a critical point in history, Rynell said. The study was based on the most recent indicators from the U.S. Census Bureau and other key sources to provide a primer on the “who, where, why and what” of poverty in Illinois, she said.

The IMPACT study also provides a snapshot of the 102 counties in Illinois, with 39 of those counties listed on either a Poverty Watch or Poverty Warning list. Bureau and Putnam counties were not named on either list. The entire report is available at

Bureau/Putnam County Health Department Administrator Diana Rawlings said the health department has looked at the overall poverty rate for the two-county area through its own recent Illinois Project for Local Assessment of Needs (IPLAN) study. Poverty rates for the two-county rate, as well as the entire state, have increased dramatically in the last 10 years, she said.

Both Bureau and Putnam counties fall below the state poverty averages, both in the 1999 and 2010 IPLAN studies. Bureau County had an overall poverty rate of about 7 percent in 1999, compared to 11 percent in 2010. Those numbers for Putnam County rose from 6 percent in 1999 to 11 percent in 2010. The statewide poverty rate increased from 10 percent to 12 percent in that same time range.

Children and single mothers with children under the age of 18 years have the highest poverty rate, as well as senior citizens, Rawlings said. It’s common for poverty to affect children and the elderly since they are typically not in the workforce.

Though Bureau and Putnam counties are below the state averages in their poverty levels, according to the IPLAN and IMPACT studies, it still is not good to see those poverty percentages increasing in the two-county area, Rawlings said.

The primary goal of the local health department is to increase health in the two-county area by developing programs geared to meet the needs in the area. When poverty is decreased, typically that will mean an increase in good health, through increased immunizations, programs and services.

However, decreasing poverty must be a community-wide effort, Rawlings said. No one agency can handle it on its own, but agencies and coalitions must work on their own level to help solve the problem, she said.

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