By TAMMY WEBBER
CHICAGO (AP) â¿¿ One-third of Illinois residents are living in or near poverty, more than during the depths of the Great Recession, according to a new report that suggests the trend is not slowing and that state budget cuts have exacerbated the problem.
Almost 1.9 million Illinoisans, or 15 percent, live in poverty, up from 12 percent when the recession began in late 2007. An additional 2.2 million, or 18 percent, are close to the poverty level, compared with 16.2 percent in 2007, according to the report issued Wednesday by the Chicago-based Social IMPACT Research Center.
"It really is kind of shocking that a full third of the state is struggling," said Amy Terpstra, the center's associate director.
Poverty is defined as an annual income below $23,021 for a family of four. Almost half of those in poverty earn half that. Those considered low-income earn between 100 percent and 199 percent of poverty. The study is based on the U.S. Census Department's 2011 American Community Survey.
Terpstra said near-poor residents often hold low-wage jobs with too few hours and no health benefits, yet don't qualify for state or federal assistance. She said someone generally must make twice the poverty level to make ends meet without assistance, but in Illinois, that amount is higher because of the state's cost of living.
Other indicators of poverty â¿¿ food stamp use and emergency food assistance â¿¿ appear to support the survey.
The number of food stamp recipients increased 19 percent during the recent recession, and has increased an additional 41 percent since it ended in June 2009.
Households served by the state's emergency food program spiked from 2.27 million in fiscal year 2009 to almost 3 million in 2012, although the amount of food distributed in those years was about the same, just over 23 million pounds, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services, which distributes federal surplus commodities to food banks.