Given the circumstances, Jeremy Lincicum is doing the best he can.
He lives in Belleville and is unemployed, but not from a lack of trying. The 38-year-old Massachusetts native moved to the metro-east in 1985 and was attending Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 1996 when his mother died. He eventually dropped out. In 2007, he lost his home and his car.
He has since lived in homeless shelters but is currently living in an apartment. He has relied on Social Security and government housing assistance and he believes recent cuts to government programs and billions of dollars in cuts coming to the nation's food stamp program hinder his climb out of poverty.
"It's been a story of instability of trying to find stability," Lincicum said. "I'm in a constant state of not being sure if the check will come in the mail or if the government will shut down ..."
Lincicum is one of the 46.5 million Americans and 1.9 million Illinoisans living at or below the poverty level. In St. Clair County, 51,050 were living in poverty in 2012 and 34,325 residents in Madison County were in the same situation.
According to a new report from Chicago-based social research group Social Impact Research Center, a program of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights, there has been little progress on the "War on Poverty" President Lyndon Johnson declared in 1964. That year, 14.7 percent of Illinoisans were living in poverty. Today, the same number face the same living conditions.
Report author and researcher Jennifer Clary said an additional 2.2 million Illinoisans, 17.6 percent of the population, have an income that is between 100 percent and 199 percent of the poverty line. This also includes the 388,000 state residents who are in families where someone works full time and still lives in poverty.
While the number of richest Illinois households have increased their wealth, the poorest state households are losing income. The study found that the top fifth households earned an average income of $173,458 in 2010, an increase of 11.4 percent between 2000 and 2007, while the bottom fifth of households earned $20,850, which decreased by 15.2 percent from 2000 to 2007.
"All of this is alarming to me," Clary said. "We need to redouble our efforts to end poverty. One figure that really resonates with people and those who are still living in poverty is their shared vision that for those who work full time year round, work is meant to provide some insulation. But from everywhere we go, that is not the case for so many workers out there."
Lincicum said he is just looking for a sense of stability.
"I'm not sure what I want," he said. "Do I go back to school go or back to work? I can't seem to focus on that. I'm too busy focusing on basically surviving."
Granite City resident Patrick Norris' situation is not as desperate, but he said he has come a long way. He left his native California after he lost his house more than a decade ago for an opportunity that he said never came to fruition in the metro-east. Initially facing tough times and mental illness, he could not even find a job at a fast-food restaurant and was living off Social Security and food stamps.
He has since become a peer specialist at a metro-east hospital and realizes that the road out of poverty is difficult.
"I am very fortunate with the opportunities I got were more than just getting part-time jobs," Norris said.
"There is no way out of poverty but to get a job," he said. "The reality is the job situation has always been to find something you can do and then start looking for a better job until you get something that ... supports you."
The Social Impact Research Center concluded its study with a number of possible solutions to lift Illinois residents out of poverty. One is increasing the state's minimum wage, a topic that is currently being discussed in Illinois and across the country. Another is protecting state funding for human service programs that help families move out of poverty and making jobs available to all who want to by investing in subsidized and transitional jobs.
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.