Economists tell us that the Great Recession ended in June 2009. Since then, the national economy has expanded, although at a modest rate.
However, during the past 4 years, the rate of students from low-income families in Sterling, Rock Falls and Dixon has not declined, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Rather, it has risen.
At Dixon Public Schools, the number of low-income students rose from 39 percent to 49 percent of the student population.
Rock Falls High School saw the rate of low-income students rise from 43 to 56 percent.
Sterling Public Schools saw its rate rise from 45 to 58 percent.
And Rock Falls Elementary Schools saw its rate rise from 67 to 77 percent.
Illinois as a whole saw the low-income student rate rise from 43 to 50 percent, meaning that Dixon schools are barely below the state average, while Sterling and Rock Falls schools are significantly above.
The numbers point to the challenge faced by local educators to give a sound, 21st-century education to all students. Studies show that boys and girls who live in low-income families are at a disadvantage because of economic stresses, even though some are able to do well.
Still, research released earlier this year about rising poverty in Illinois, by the Social IMPACT Research Center in Chicago, pointed out a stark fact: Low-income students are less likely to graduate from high school.
Statistics show that students in Lee and Whiteside county high schools have the same graduation rate: 83.2 percent. However, for low-income students, the high school graduation rate was 72.3 percent in Lee County, and 76.3 percent in Whiteside.
Without high school diplomas, dropouts will learn the hard way that the doors of economic opportunity are much more likely to remain closed.
The numbers are also indicative of the local economy in general.
What they indicate is troubling.
When more child-rearing families are low-income, those families won’t have as much discretionary income to spend within the local economy, after the necessities – food, clothing and shelter – are paid for.
Thus, less money will circulate through the local economy to buy the various goods and services provided by local businesses. That puts increased financial pressure on those local businesses themselves.
Local charities find the demand for their services going up as well. We’ve heard of several food banks that are serving more clients.
The national jobless rate has declined to 7 percent, but the Illinois jobless rate is higher, at 8.3 percent. Whiteside County’s jobless rate is also 8.3 percent, while Lee’s is 8.8 percent.
Until more local people have good-paying jobs, low-income families will continue to struggle, as will schools and the entire Sauk Valley economy.
The situation points to the continued need to promote economic development while reacting to the changing global economy.
Santa Claus, if you’re listening, what the region could really use this Christmas is a stronger economy.