Paul, 62, and Kim, 59, have called Skokie home for over 25 years. They always had just enough, until Paul lost his job and found his job prospects were scarce. They exhausted all their savings and, for the first time in their lives, can’t make ends meet.
Joanne, is a divorced mother 35 years old with two young children. She and her children live in a modest basement apartment in an affluent North Shore neighborhood. Her ex-husband rarely pays child support, leaving Joanne struggling to try to make ends meet on her modest preschool teacher salary.
Esther, 85, lives in the 1950’s small suburban bungalow that she and her husband purchased more than 4 decades ago. Struggling to live off social security income, Esther has not been able to keep up with home repairs. Yet she can’t afford to leave her home – there is no where she could go that would cost her less to live, and because of the condition of her property, she would not make enough money on the sale of her home to cover the increase of costs long term.
These are just a few of the stories of thousands of Jewish individuals living in poverty who reside throughout Chicago’s suburban communities. In America, the suburbs are where you will find the largest and fastest-growing poor population. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of people living below the federal poverty line ($22,314 for a family of four in 2010) in the suburbs grew by 53%, compared with just 23% in cities. In 2010 roughly 15.3 million poor people lived in the suburbs, compared with about 12.8 million in cities.
Nowhere is it easy to be poor, but being poor in Chicago’s suburbs presents some unique challenges. Transportation is a greater issue as few can rely on public transit. That means more families must incur the expenses of owning a car in order to get to and from work. Affordable housing is scarce, and rents continue to climb. Families experiencing crisis are desperate to stay in their community and for their children to attend their current school.
Chicago’s Jewish community is not immune from this hardship. Forty-six percent of The ARK’s clients reside in Chicago’s suburbs, including Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Deerfield, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Highwood, Northbrook, and Skokie. Among them are well-educated professionals who never imagined they would one day need anyone’s help, seniors struggling to live on fixed incomes, and people with disabilities.
The ARK Northwest, located in Northbrook, cares for our community members who live in the north and northwest suburbs. Opened in 2011 in response to the growing number of suburban poor, our suburban office is open 5 days a week and helps more than 650 people a year. It is a number that we expect to keep growing as the number of poor living in our suburban communities continues to rise.