Once considered primarily an urban issue, poverty is becoming a larger problem in McHenry County, as it is in other suburban areas across the country.
Poverty has been trending upward in the suburbs for the past several decades.
Go back more than 30 years, and 75 percent of the greater Chicago area's poor resided within the city. Today, those living in poverty are split evenly between inner cities and suburbs. That trend is particularly pronounced in the Midwest. The lingering effects of the recession hasn't helped with unemployment still hovering around 8 percent.
According to a story in Sunday's Northwest Herald, 28,226 McHenry County residents lived below the federal poverty line in 2011, or about 9.2 percent of the population. Just four years earlier, in 2007, 5.7 percent of county residents lived below the poverty line, which is defined by an income of $11,484 for an individual; $14,657 for a family of two; and $23,021 for a family of four.
Of course, 2007 saw the start of the Great Recession. While the economy has rebounded some, far too many people remain unemployed or underemployed.
As a result, local agencies who provide support to those in tough financial situations are being stretched.
Food pantries are seeing more visitors. McHenry County PADS, which offers services to the homeless and operates several rotating shelters during the winter months, has seen more people, including younger ones, seek its help.
Some social service providers are saying that poverty has become a crisis locally.
Sadly, there are no quick and easy solutions to reversing this disturbing trend. Ultimately, we need an environment where the private sector is creating more and better-paying jobs. To help accomplish that, we need smaller government at all levels, with lower taxes. Every dollar a business spends on local, state and federal taxes is money that doesn't get spent on the salary of a private sector worker. We're a long way from that happening.
In the short term, there are things that the more fortunate members of our community can do to make life easier for those most in need. Donate to local food pantries, to agencies that help the poor, or to the United Way of Greater McHenry County.
Don't turn a blind eye to what is a very real problem, even in McHenry County.