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Area poverty rates have jumped

Area poverty rates have jumped

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BLOOMINGTON - The number of McLean and Tazewell county children living in poverty has virtually doubled from 1999 to 2005, and the counties' overall poverty rates also jumped, according to analysis of U.S. Census data.

"I'm not surprised by the figures," said Karen Zangerle, executive director of Bloomington-based PATH (Providing Access To Help). The increasing numbers of people coming into the agency with unmet needs make it clear more people are having trouble getting by, she said.

The increasing poverty rates show up in increasing need for social services for low-income people, such as subsidized medical care and free lunches at school.

The national poverty rate remains steady at about 12.6 percent, but poverty grew in McLean and Tazewell Counties, according an analysis of 2005 data by the Chicago-based Illinois Poverty Summit.

The percentage of McLean County residents living in poverty grew from 9.7 percent to 12.3 percent from 1999 to 2005. That means the number of people living in poverty grew by about 25 percent.

The percentage of Tazewell County's population living in poverty grew from 6.3 percent to 9.6 percent. That's about a 55 percent increase.

McLean County children living in poverty rose from 2,601 in 1999 to 4,808 in 2005. In Tazewell County, child poverty more than doubled in that same period, reaching 5,261.

Only counties with populations exceeding 65,000 people were included in the census data released Wednesday. Information on smaller counties, including Dewitt, Livingston and Logan, will be released at a later date.

However, Dewitt and Piatt counties were on the Illinois Poverty Summit Poverty Watch list issued earlier this year, said Amy Rynell, director of Mid-America Institute on Poverty, which oversees the Poverty Summit.

The demand for public health programs, especially those aimed at mothers and children, remains strong, said Sara Sparkman, Tazewell County Health Department's community projects manager.

"The number of people requesting dental services is amazing," she said.

McLean County has seen an increase in demand for mother and child nutrition programs, and family health needs, said Bob Keller, director of the McLean County Health Department. He attributed much of it to an increasing number of service-sector jobs that don't offer medical insurance.

"We see a large impact in public health," Keller said. "I expect that trend will continue."

The unemployment rate in both Tazewell and McLean has grown only about half a percentage point since 1999, but Rynell said the trend has been away from high-paying manufacturing jobs to service jobs that pay less.

"We've lost many years of progress in how jobs are structured today," she said.

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