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Dec. 18 2009 - 11:46 am | 34 views | 1 recommendation | 8 comments

Stimulus kept 305,000 Illinoisans out of poverty – just barely

A sign on Pomeroy apartments advertises that stimulus dollars are being used to rehab this senior building on Chicago's North Side.

A sign on Pomeroy apartments advertises that stimulus dollars are being used to rehab this senior building on Chicago's North Side.

Although I mainly think of the stimulus as a government effort to fix roads and rehab buildings, there’s also a lot of money in there for low-income working families – child tax credits, emergency unemployment, EITC and the like – all designed to help boost incomes for working families.

A new report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says those measures helped 305,000 families in Illnois stay “out of poverty.”

By how much?

Well, really, just a few dollars and cents.

Of course, we have to measure poverty somehow, and in the U.S., our poverty measure is an antiquated system based on Cold War calculations of living expenses.

In 2009, it’s $22,050 for a family of four. So families making $22,051 were “kept out of poverty,” lavishly spending their extra buck buying toothpaste at the Family Dollar.

The report says most families got about a $700 increase, which is nothing to sneeze at when you’re hovering above the poverty level.

It’s a victory – but mostly a statistical one. Is the standard of living much greater making $22, 750 a year than $22,050?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad the stimulus did something to put a little extra cash in the hands of struggling families.

But we need to be a little more careful when counting our chickens. “Poor” isn’t just a number on a chart.

It’s deciding whether you fix the car so you can go to work or pay to go to the doctor when you’re sick. It means choosing to pay the rent over the phone bill, even though that means the manager at the job you just applied for won’t be able to get ahold of you and will throw your application in the trash. It’s buying winter coats for your kids when they’ve outgrown last year’s instead of presents for under the Christmas tree.

An extra few bucks a month can help a little bit, but is it “lifting you out of poverty”?



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  1. collapse expand

    Was it really worth it though? I’m not sure “stimulus” would be a proper word to describe getting someone an extra $700. Like you said, nothing to sneeze at, but at what cost to get someone’s income level from $22,050 to $22,750?

    It seems as though there could have been a better way to get families struggling to pay the bills and extra $700 a year…

  2. collapse expand

    I agree. The report did say that it helps everyone because usually people spend the extra money, which stimulates the economy. But I don’t know. Maybe that money could have been saved and put into better housing, better schools? Although some people would argue it’s best put in the hands of people.

    How do you think it should have been spent?

    • collapse expand

      Not sure. I come from the “wrong side of the tracks” (meaning: I consider myself a conservative) so anything I say on this site is generally not well received. No matter to me really-I just like to see different perspectives..

      However, speaking to this subject, I know how far $700 can go for someone who doesn’t have $700. I just don’t know if a full blown “stimulus” that doesn’t really stimulate anything is really worth it. I guess a rent payment going to a landlord stimulates the landlord’s budget a bit, but I’m not sure how it affects things on a grander (national) scale.

      Like the story reads though, I don’t think stimulating someone out of “poverty level” by $700 can really be considered a victory for the amount of taxpayer money it took to do it.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        By the way, I grew up in Illinois out in farm country as well. About 60 miles west of Chicago…

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I also like to see different perspectives. Thanks for sharing yours. Please keep sharing it even if we crazy liberals keep shouting you down.

        I, myself, have had my mind changed on many subjects through discourse like this and talking with people. For example, I think the current welfare system is a disaster – a waste of money and no help to anyone. If I had my way, we’d ax it and start over. No reform – just end it and figure out a better way to help people with that money.

        All of that to say I appreciate different opinions – even if they irritate me sometimes!

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    The stimulus also got the eraser on my pencil replaced….praise obama

  4. collapse expand

    So, I am late to the game in adding my comment on this one, but I do want to weigh in.

    Is $700 the end all and be all? Nope. Is the current poverty measure crap? Yep. Any time I talk about the official poverty numbers, I ask the question of the audience – if a family of four is making $23,000 and is out of poverty, are they doing well? I always get a resounding “no!” for an answer.

    So, let’s make those facts the baseline.

    Now let’s talk about something called progressive realization. Essentially, change takes time. Poverty did not start yesterday and will not end tomorrow. The key is to keep moving forward. That means making today’s version of welfare work (and starting over from scratch ain’t that bad of an idea.) That means revamping social services in general so they are focused on people and not issues (e.g. what does a family of four in poverty need to be self-sufficient vs. “We deal with housing.”) That means taking advantage of opportunities like the stimulus package to blunt the the pain that the recession has on the most vulnerable.

    In theory, these changes here and there add up to big changes overtime. The problem is a lack of vision and planning coupled with a massive lack of political will that keeps us moving toward that vision. Instead of progression, we get retrogression (a fun word to work in at cocktail parties). We don’t move forward.

    This reality is why I have a hard time getting too critical about the successes of the stimulus package. Is it the end all and be all? Naw, but it did help. That decision about buying your kid the winter coat they need got easier because of it. That means something. The key is to build on it. We cannot rest. We cannot pat ourselves on the back and say we have done our job. We took one step, but it is an incredibly long road.

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

    I have this idea about journalism - that it should be approachable and less "newsy." I want my stories to make you laugh, cry and draw you in to neighborhoods and situations you don't deal with every day. I hate the broadcaster voice. I hate TV news. I hate the inverted pyramid. I love surprise. I love humor. I love people and telling their stories.

    In addition to being a journalist, I also teach dance for the Chicago Public Schools. I don't just do it for the money. I love children and love arts education. I'm also on the board of a new nonprofit dedicated to helping the underserved find jobs called Employing Hope. I write fiction, keep house, and am generally a renaissance woman.

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