Copley News: Hare looks for poverty solutions
Phil Hare doesn't have all the answers to solving Galesburg and Knox County's poverty problem. But he is willing to listen to questions.
Rep. Hare, D-Rock Island, was at Carl Sandburg College Saturday afternoon to start a dialogue among federal, county and city government officials and local residents. He wants to help formulate a plan to lift working families out of poverty in this area.
"This community is very special to me," Hare told a crowd of about 25 city and county officials, members of the media and area residents. "It's really, really been hit, I don't have to tell you that. But I will make it my mission to do everything I can to help bring this community back."
In 2006 Knox County was named to a poverty warning list because its high school graduation, teen birth, unemployment and poverty rates were all worse than the state averages. From Dec. 17 to 20 2006, The Register-Mail published a four-part series, "The Poverty Among Us." The series examined the causes of poverty in Knox County, told the stories of those living in poverty in Galesburg and asked local politicians and social service workers to think about solutions.
Knox County was named to the warning list again in 2007, with all rates except unemployment increasing.
"The problem has been identified," Hare said. "Now what can we do? We have to address this issue of poverty in this community. Maybe (we need) a task force on what you think I could do and what we can do collectively to help."
Hare invited others to ask questions or provide insight on what the community can do to combat poverty. Galesburg Mayor Gary Smith, Carl Sandburg College President Tom Schmidt and Knox County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bonnie Harris all spoke about the importance of education in combating poverty.
"Public education is preparing students for the world the teachers knew, not the world the students are going to know," Schmidt said. Schmidt said students in high school today don't take education as seriously because they're not expected to act like adults.
"Young people make personal decisions that are flippant to them at the time, but have long-term serious consequences," Schmidt said.
Smith said there are three main focuses that can help Galesburg fight poverty.
"We need a combination of getting jobs here, education and helping kids make the correct decisions on things that will impact them for a long time," Smith said. "The days of graduating high school and getting a job at the factory are gone. That's not the world today."
Smith, Schmidt and Knox County Board member Jan Occhi, D-District 3, all talked about steps the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association is taking to bring jobs to the area.
Smith said GREDA is trying to bring medium sized businesses to the area and has several good prospects, but most of that information is confidential.
Hare said this is the first of what he hopes will be several discussions on combating poverty in Knox County. He wants to meet with federal, state, county and city officials and representatives from social service agencies and faith-based groups, along with community members to discuss what can be done.
"We're not going to cure the problem of poverty in Galesburg overnight," Hare said. "But it is our obligation to examine it and see what we can do about it. We need to see who's willing to help and what we need to do to try and solve it."
Poverty by the Numbers
- In 2000, 14.7 percent of the Galesburg population - or about 5,000 residents - were living below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Based on the 2000 Federal Poverty Guidelines, a family of four's annual income would have been less than $17,590 to meet the criteria.
- According to census estimates, Knox County's poverty rate increased from 11.1 percent in 2000 to 12.7 percent in 2003.
- In fall 2006, more than 56 percent of students in Galesburg schools qualified for free and reduced lunches because their families' income levels were at 185 percent or less of the poverty level. For a family of four to qualify, its annual income would be $37,000 or less.
- Families at 50 percent of the poverty level are considered to be living in extreme poverty. In 2000, 6.3 percent of the Galesburg population - or about 2,000 residents - were in extreme poverty. Based on the 2000 Federal Poverty Guidelines, a family of four's annual income would have been less than $9,000 to be meet that criteria.