The number of people in poverty in DuPage County has increased by 149% between 1990 and 2008, according to US Census figures.. A report by Candace King, Senior Research Associate in NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies, describes a sharp increase in the need for services such food assistance, homelessness prevention, emergency financial assistance, medical care, etc. Applications for benefits at the Illinois Department of Human Services are up about 300%, while caseworkers at DHS’ DuPage County office have seen their caseloads triple in the past few years.
How did this happen in DuPage County, one of the wealthier counties in Illinois, and 23rd wealthiest in the nation? According to the New York Times, King’s report, “Who are the New Neighbors: Facts about Demographic Change in DuPage County” puts the spotlight on important changes happening in Chicago’s affluent western suburbs New residents are likely to be members of minority groups or international immigrants. Formerly affluent professionals have lost their jobs and struggle to keep up with mortgages, food, and medical expenses. At the same time, low-wage service jobs are replacing high-paying jobs. For the needy, public transportation often does not serve the County’s more affordable areas, essential human services within the county are stressed because of state budget cuts, affordable housing is in very short supply, and the programs that provide healthcare for the indigent are struggling with a huge enrollment surge. Homelessness is an increasing concern.
King, who also serves as Executive Director of the DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform, and Robert Gleeson, Director of the Center for Governmental Studies, served on a panel examining “Poverty in DuPage” at Elmhurst College. They explained that many indicators of wealth have been changing in DuPage County. Median household income has dropped along with housing prices. Over 145,000 (15.82%) DuPage residents have household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line. Yet DuPage County has the highest cost of living in the state, and researchers estimate that a single parent with two children needs an annual income of $61,910 to barely meet essential expenses.
NIU staff in the Center for Governmental Studies work with community partners to research shared problems and develop solutions. For more information about dramatic changes in DuPage County and how NIU is working to help address human services needs, see DuPage County Federation and the Center for Governmental Studies.