Hard Times

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Fighting Poverty in Chicago

Family income in Cook County took a big hit since the recession of 2007 according to Heartland Alliance, the Chicago-based human needs and human rights organization.

Using 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage, Heartland Alliance’s snapshot report of Cook County points to climbing poverty rates, 14.6 percent to 17.6 percent from 2007 to 2011, a jump the snapshot report calls “statistically significant.”

Cook County residents in extreme poverty, according to the report, number 420,694.

The current federal poverty threshold for a three member family is $17,916.

Declining household incomes lead to shrinking city-county resources. Church groups and charities, in turn, face problems meeting basic human needs.

Finding Help

People in these situations have many needs and it’s not easy determining which need is critical. If employment is the issue, recall that extended unemployment periods hurt job skills and that those job skills must be refreshed. There are several agencies in Chicago that will help with this process. Their workshops are known as job readiness training. When money is available, job-specific education at a trade school or college is recommended.

Agencies providing such services have funding difficulties too. Especially in hard times, it can be a chore finding free job agencies.

The Chicago Jobs Council maintains a directory on the web that helps people in need locate job resources. Known as WIRE, it is found at wire.cjc.net/dynamic/directory.

“Employment services like these are really investments in our future,” says Liz Czarnecki of the Chicago Jobs Council. CJC works with its member agencies to ensure job opportunities for people in poverty.

Another resource the long-term unemployed may need is food stamps. Go to the Illinois Department of Human Services web site to learn more. Families in trouble will find help through DHS.

The Illinois unemployment rate, high at 9.1 percent in August, 2012, still declined from a year earlier when it was 10.2 percent. That’s small comfort.

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