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Poverty a tough nut to crack

More people in Illinois live in or near poverty than before the Great Recession began. A greater effort must be made to help those in need.

This week’s report about rising poverty in Illinois pulled no punches. “Shocking” is the word used by one official to describe the situation.

Fully one-third of Illinois residents live in or near poverty, according to the Social IMPACT Research Center in Chicago.

That number compares to 28 percent who lived in or near poverty in 2007, when the Great Recession began.

Amy Terpstra, the center’s associate director, put it this way: “It really is kind of shocking that a full third of the state is struggling.”

Although the recession officially ended in June 2009, its devastating economic impact has not abated as rapidly as in previous recoveries.

The number of food stamp recipients has increased by 41 percent since 2009. Households served by Illinois’ emergency food program have risen from 2.27 million in fiscal year 2009 to almost 3 million last year.

When the economy fails to generate enough good-paying jobs, that’s what happens. Economists consider full employment to be in the range of 4 percent to 5 percent unemployment, but Illinois’ jobless rate stood at 8.7 percent in November.

Illinois’ economic fate is tied to the national economy, but that should not stop actions that can improve the likelihood of better days ahead.

For example, state government needs to do all it can to improve the business climate and create better conditions for private sector hiring.

The ongoing public pension crisis hinders Illinois’ ability to respond to the needs of the poor. Politicians’ delays on pension reform make matters worse.

This problem must be solved soon.

Government needs to hold the line on spending so as not to increase the burden of taxation on hard-hit Illinoisans.

Schools must ensure that their course offerings are relevant to the 21st century. They must improve high school graduation rates to give more young people a better chance in the real world.

According to the report, Lee County’s high school graduation rate last year was 83.2 percent; so was Whiteside County’s. Lee’s graduation rate for low-income students was 72.3 percent; Whiteside’s was 76.3 percent.

Those numbers show there is substantial room for improvement.

The public needs to fully embrace the concept of lifelong learning and training for new careers. The days of staying at one company your entire career have slipped away.

Economic development agencies and their projects have the potential to improve the local economy. They deserve public support.

Continued generosity toward charitable organizations, including food pantries, is another way for the public to push back against poverty.

The need is great. Whiteside County has 7,576 people living in poverty. Lee County has 3,670 people living in poverty.

Poverty is a tough nut to crack. Society’s focus must not stray from striving to eliminate poverty and helping those it victimizes.

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