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Advocacy group says children suffering in budget crisis
By Chase Castle | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/12/2010 12:00 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - A report released Thursday says nearly one in five children in the state could soon be living in poverty, prompting youth advocates to demand more money for state social services.

Conducted by policymaker group Voices for Illinois Children, the report calls itself Illinois' first study of how the modern economy has locally affected young people.

"The Kids Count report sheds light on those Illinoisans who are often the most hidden victims of the recession, and that's our children," said Kathleen Ryg, a former Democratic lawmaker from Vernon Hills and president of Voices.

Measuring poverty as a family of four collectively earning less than $22,000 a year, the report said children in Cook County had a poverty rate of 21.6 percent as recently as 2008. The same time period for Lake County had a child poverty rate of 9.5 percent, 6.5 percent in DuPage County, 6.4 percent in McHenry County and 12 percent in Kane County.

The group predicts that statewide child poverty could reach 23 percent by 2012 if trends continue.

"That's a standard of living that's barely comprehensible to many of us," Ryg said.

Voices' Government Relations Director Sean Noble said even after unemployment rates and other factors associated with the recession begin to improve, children's poverty and homelessness rates tend to linger years longer.

"Unemployment, as we hear an awful lot, takes so long to turn back around again, and that's a major contributor to children's poverty rates and family poverty rates remaining fairly high for some time after turnaround," said Noble.

Statewide social service agencies already are contending with recent budget cuts and billions of dollars in unpaid state funds resulting from a budget deficit of roughly $13 billion.

Ryg said Voices is on record supporting Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal for an income tax increase in order to cover expenses for youth services.

"The fact that the deficit is half of the (state's) operating budget means that it would require mass elimination of vital state services and programs and create serious, even more devastating harm, to the children and families who are already experiencing struggles," Ryg said. "It is obvious that if we want to protect the priorities - it will require generating more adequate revenue."

The report did, however, note "significant progress in key policy areas" affecting children, including early childhood education, health insurance coverage and mental health services.