Angie Lampe-Mapel bought a home in Machesney Park for herself and her five children in 2007. A year later, Lampe-Mapel is stressed. Her $11.90-an-hour job at Rockford Memorial Hospital isn’t keeping up with her $914 monthly mortgage. Lampe-Mapel isn’t alone in her struggle against rising food and fuel costs — and she’s better off than many families.

The American dream came true for Angie Lampe-Mapel in 2007. She bought a home in Machesney Park for herself and her five children.

A year later, Lampe-Mapel is stressed. Her $11.90-an-hour job at Rockford Memorial Hospital isn’t keeping up with her $914 monthly mortgage. Her oldest son, 22, just got a job, and with his help she hopes to catch up.

“I really thought I could make it,” said Lampe-Mapel about the house payments. “But we’re getting hit by everything at once. I’m scared to death.”

Lampe-Mapel isn’t alone in her struggle against rising food and fuel costs — and she’s better off than many families. A report out today — the 2008 Report on Illinois Poverty — shows that 12 percent of the state’s residents lived in poverty in 2005, the most recent year for which statewide numbers are available.

The 2005 numbers put Winnebago, Boone and Ogle counties among 44 on a “watch list.” The population in poverty is 11.9 percent for Winnebago, 8.4 percent for Ogle, and 8 percent for Boone.

According to Heartland Alliance’s Mid-America Institute on Poverty, which compiled the report, counties on the watch list should be monitored because of indicators of poverty.

Twenty-two counties, including Cook, Champaign and many in southern Illinois, are on a warning list where, the institute says, poverty is severe and action ought to be taken.

Many of the numbers are from 2005, the most recent data in which all counties can be compared, said Amy Rynell, director of the institute, which advocates for the poor in the state. More recent figures for large counties and cities, reported in the Register Star in August, showed Rockford’s poverty rate at 22.5 percent and Winnebago County’s at 14.8 percent in 2006.

Winnebago County’s numbers in 2005 gave a mixed forecast, said Rynell and Amy Terpstra, a research associate for the group. The county’s status improved slightly because the graduation rate went up by nearly 2 percentage points to 80.4 percent. That was offset by the teen birth rate that went up by 1.5 points to 13.4 percent.

“In Winnebago County, there are still almost 34,000 people who are poor, and child poverty is at 18.7 percent,” Terpstra said. “There is reason to be concerned.”

Statewide, Rynell said, half of those living in extreme poverty — with an income level at half or less of the federal poverty level — are people who can’t do anything about it. They are children, old or disabled.

“Our expectations are that government has a role in helping them, but the governmental systems have become so weak they do not meet demands,” Rynell said. “In housing assistance, for example, our capacity is dwarfed by the demand.”

Cheryl Rogers, executive director for Shelter Care Ministries in Rockford, which provides 20 apartments for homeless families, has seen that for years.

“We always have a waiting list of between 10 and 35,” Rogers said. “Today it’s 15.”

Phone inquiries about housing are up by at least 100 a month to 650, Rogers said.

A shortage of affordable housing, which Rogers calls the “biggest crisis we have,” constantly contributes to Shelter Care’s caseload. Adding to that are families who couldn’t keep up with utility bills and were forced out of their homes.

Most are single-parent families, but Rogers said she’s seen more two-parent families in the past two years than before.

“I’d say 40 to 50 percent, sometimes more, are working,” Rogers said. “Some have recently lost jobs. Trying to keep up with utilities and rent, and looking for a job, become overwhelming, especially if you have children.”

Demand at the Rock River Valley Food Pantry has remained stable for the past year but went up just this week to 130 households each day, said assistant director Judy Watson.

“Those in need are probably more in need than they were a year ago,” she added. “The job market in Rockford, jobs aren’t there.”

Lampe-Mapel, whose five children range in age from 5 to 22, will feel better if she can get caught up on house payments. Until then, she said, she’ll continue to stretch the $256 she gets in food stamps each month, the child support she gets for her three oldest children, her pay and what her older children can spare. Some things will be deferred or given up.

“I’ve got repairs on my house I can’t do. I have no money for it,” she said. “I’m constantly telling my kids, ‘no, you can’t go to a movie with friends,’ ‘no, you can’t go out for a burger.’ They’re in sports and cheerleading and I’m trying to find money for that.”

“Six months from now, I see us still struggling,” Lampe-Mapel said, “but I hope we’ll have this mortgage straightened out and be back on track. We may not have gas or lights,” she added, laughing, “but we’ll have a house to live in.”

Geri Nikolai can be reached at (815) 987-1337 or gnikolai@rrstar.com.

What is poverty?

2008 guidelines by the federal government set the poverty level at the following annual incomes for residents of the contiguous 48 states:

1 person: $10,400
2 people: $14,000
3 people: $17,600
4 people: $21,200
5 people: $24,800
6 people: $28,400

Estimates suggest that 38.4 percent of 25-year-olds in the United States will experience poverty at some point in their adult lives.

Other voices

“As a city, we need to continue working on affordable housing. That is the biggest crisis we have.”

— Cheryl Rogers, executive director, Shelter Care Ministries

“I’m scared to death. I really thought I could make it, but we’re getting hit with everything at once.”

— Angie Lampe-Mapel, single mother of five, talking about rising fuel and food prices and the home she bought for her five children a year ago on her $11.90-an-hour job.

“I got a call this morning from a man who, I could tell, had never had to do this before. His hours were cut, he lost his medical benefits, he has a family. I told him to just come in, it will only take a couple of minutes. It’s very hard for people who have never done this before to come in for food.”

— Judy Watson, assistant director, Rock River Valley Food Pantry

Poverty notes

Some observations by the Mid-America Institute on Poverty in its latest report on poverty in Illinois:

-The number of Illinoisans living in poverty surged by 19 percent in the past five years.

-Poverty is a serious issue in 74 of Illinois’ 102 counties.

-Reasons for growing poverty: declining incomes, skyrocketing costs; households owing more in debt than they own in assets; regressive tax systems; a porous public safety net.

-Needed steps: establish a Commission on the Elimination of Poverty; improve the payday loan reform act; increase the Illinois earned income tax credit; increase Temporary Assistance to Needy Families cash grants.

-There are almost three times as many “cash stores,” or payday lending shops, in the state than there are McDonald’s restaurants.

-The median debt per Illinois household for car loans, furniture, student loans, etc., is $13,384.

-The median debt on credit cards and other forms of high interest debt is $1,782.

-The poorest Illinois families have a tax rate 2.7 times higher than the wealthiest families.

-If women were paid the same as comparable men, even if only for the hours women currently work, a recent study shows that poverty rates would fall by half for both single mothers and married women. 

-In high-poverty schools, 13 percent of classes are taught by teachers who don’t have a degree in the area they teach. In low-poverty schools that number is 0.2 percent.

-More than one in four Illinois renters are spending over half their income on housing.

-Suburban Chicago counties are experiencing rapidly growing poverty.

-The poverty rate in the Midwest showed the largest increase since 1999 of any region in the country.

For more, go to heartlandalliance.org.

Source: Mid-America Institute on Poverty of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights