Cook County placed on ‘Poverty Warning’ list

Sophia Bollag, Reporter

Cook County ranks among the most impoverished counties in the Illinois, according to a report released last week.

In a state where one third of residents live in or at the brink of poverty, Cook County is one of 14 counties placed on a “Poverty Warning” List by the Heartland Alliance, a Chicago-based nonprofit, in their annual report on poverty in Illinois. The Heartland Alliance’s findings show almost 18 percent of people in Cook County live below the federal poverty line, compared with 15 percent statewide.

The report’s timing coincides with Evanston’s work to enact elements of a five-year plan to combat homelessness in the city.

The plan, developed by the Homeless Task Force, an initiative formed in 2011 to evaluate homelessness and poverty in the city, details the Task Force’s findings and proposes solutions.

Mary Ellen Poole, who worked on the Task Force, cited the economic recession as the reason for the increasing poverty in the city.

“People at risk of homelessness, who are maybe one paycheck away, has increased dramatically,” the city housing planner said.

The Task Force’s report shows poverty in Evanston has increased in recent years, just as the Heartland Alliance’s annual studies show poverty levels have increased statewide.

Along with its county-by-county findings, the Heartland Alliance report explains the state poverty rate is directly correlated to the state’s unemployment rate.

“Every 1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate causes a 0.5 percentage point increase in the poverty rate,” the report says.

The Task Force’s report gives several general strategies for combating poverty and homelessness in Evanston, such as increasing the availability of affordable housing and job opportunities.

Since compiling the report, the Task Force has merged with the Evanston Housing Commission to form the Evanston Housing and Homeless Commission, Poole said. The new commission will meet this Friday, Jan. 25 at 7 a.m. in the Evanston Civic Center to review the goals put forth by the five-year plan.