Poverty increases in metro-east: Census figures show St. Clair, Madison counties at or above 15 percent

News-DemocratSeptember 24, 2011 

Poverty rates in the metro-east have increased compared with 10 years ago, according to 2010 data the U.S. Census Bureau released this week.

The increases, however, are not a significant change when compared with poverty rates in recent years.

In St. Clair County, about 41,301 people, or 15.5 percent of the population, had an income below the poverty level the past 12 months. That's about 4,943 more people living in poverty than in 2000, when 14.5 percent of residents lived in poverty.

In Madison County, about 39,268 people, or 15 percent of the population, had incomes below the poverty level the past 12 months. That's about 14,494 people more than in 2000 when 9.8 percent of the Madison County population lived in poverty.

The Census Bureau released only data on poverty levels, unemployment and average income for counties and cities with a population of more than 65,000.

According to the Census Bureau, a household of one person reaches the poverty threshold if his or her annual income is $11,139 or less. The threshold for a family of four is $22,314.

Joe Hubbard, coordinator of Catholic Urban Programs in East St. Louis, who has worked with the needy for more than 50 years, said the census numbers reflect what he witnesses every day.

"We have a great increase of new folks who have never used our services before," Hubbard said. "Just last month, we had 63 new people -- and that was just the food pantry."

The organization also provides financial assistance for prescriptions and utilities, and there has been a demand in those services as well, Hubbard said.

Hubbard said people come from a variety of circumstances.

"People who become disabled and can't provide for themselves," he said. "Lots of people's unemployment have run out. A lot of them are working part-time jobs with no benefits, or less hours. Mothers who have been on welfare for five years and can no longer receive benefits."

There are fewer jobs available now compared with 2000 and fewer people with homes, and that amounts to more people who need help, Hubbard said.

"It's just a whole wrath of stories because federal and state programs have been cut," Hubbard said. "People have been coming to local charities and churches for help, just falling into our hands."

The two counties' numbers reflect state and national increases in poverty.

* The unemployment rate in 2010 was 10 percent in St. Clair County and 8.3 percent in Madison County, according to census estimates.

* The median household income for families that do not have Social Security, retirement or other benefits is $47,156 in St. Clair County and $51,901 in Madison County, according to estimates.

Illinois' poverty rate was 13.8 percent in 2010 compared with 13.3 percent from the previous year.

The country's poverty rate was 15.1 percent in 2010 -- or 46 million Americans -- the third year in which poverty levels have increased.

The agency will release in October more detailed information on areas with more than 20,000 people.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655.

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