Friday, September 21, 2012

Poverty still rising in Chicago

Posted By on 09.21.12 at 03:15 PM

Mayor Emanuel greets Mayor Tang Liangzhi of Wuhan, China yesterday
  • Courtesy City of Chicago-Brooke Collins
  • Mayor Emanuel greets Mayor Tang Liangzhi of Wuhan, China, yesterday
In 2010, in the "world-class" city of Chicago, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls it, one of every three children was living in poverty. And one of ten Chicagoans of all ages was living in extreme poverty—they were surviving on incomes below half of the poverty line.

That was then. Census data released yesterday shows the situation worsened last year. Child poverty in Chicago climbed from 33.1 percent in 2010 to 35.8 percent in 2011; extreme poverty rose from 10 percent to 11.2 percent. Both increases were statistically significant.

The rate of "regular" poverty here also rose, from 22.5 percent to 23.7 percent. The figures are from an analysis by the Social IMPACT Research Center of Heartland Alliance, an antipoverty group. The federal poverty line for individuals is $11,484; for a family of four it's $23,021.

Heartland points out that the growth in poverty isn't merely a result of the recession, as the rates were rising before that. Poverty also rose significantly statewide, though the rates outside of Chicago are much lower. Heartland said in a statement that the "lack of policy solutions advanced to address the growing need" throughout Illinois shows "an absence of political will and lack of commitment among decision makers to reduce poverty."

A spike in already-high child poverty and extreme poverty might be front-page news if it were happening across Chicago. But the city's pronounced segregation makes this someone else's problem—the someone elses being, mainly, the residents of cloutless African-American neighborhoods on the south and west sides. So the local media in the city of the big shoulder shrug has given the new figures little attention.

And Mayor Emanuel has yet to comment on them. The mayor of a world-class city has a busy schedule, and Emanuel's dance card has been full this week, featuring meetings with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and with Tang Liangzhi, mayor of Wuhan, China.

I asked the mayor's office this morning for his thoughts on the poverty increases, and what he plans to do about them. I'm waiting to hear back. A big city's economic plight is greatly affected by circumstances beyond a mayor's control. But as Emanuel said often during the teachers' strike, he believes in accountability.

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