Recent U.S. Census Bureau figures show that more than 46 million Americans now live in poverty. That’s the highest amount on record since the agency began tracking poverty rates in 1959. Additionally, about 50 million Americans are living without health insurance. The increasing number of people seeking assistance is a growing concern for agencies helping the poor.
Gina Zbikowski says struggling to find a job while living on a meager disability allowance is not the American dream. “To me the American dream was owning your own home, owning your own business, having your own car, you know, living life to its absolute fullest. I can’t even do that now… I can’t even dream about that now," she said.
Gina’s boyfriend John Ohlerich works a part-time job with no health insurance. And he has epilepsy. “The prescription is really expensive, and I pay for it every month. When I don’t have money to pay for it, I have to rely on my grandmother. And so that’s money right out of my pocket right there because I have to have my medication, I have to pay for my doctor's visit, otherwise, I don’t want to die," he said.
One out of six Americans, like Gina and John, lives in poverty.
“Poverty is a struggle every day to decide if you put food on the table or if you pay your rent, if you can feed your children or buy them medicine," said Kim Perez, who runs the People Resource Center in DuPage County, Illinois. They operate the food pantry that helps Gina and John get by. “People who have led successful lives, who were educated, are now finding themselves in poverty because they cannot bring in enough, their unemployment benefits have ended and there are not enough federal, state or local programs, to be quite honest, that are available to help support their needs," she said.
With more people living in poverty, aid agencies find their resources stretched thin.
Lisa Mayse-Lillig is with Heartland Human Care Services, a suburban Chicago agency that tries to prevent homelessness. She says only a small fraction of those who need help get assistance. “The dollars just aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. So as those funding sources dwindle, the need increases, and the differential between those two things just gets bigger and bigger," she said.
Gina Zbikowski knows there are limits to the help agencies can provide. She says she would rather have a job so she can take care of herself. “I’m hoping one of these days to get out of this, but things look grim right now," she said.
Zbikowski says unless something is done to reverse the unemployment rate, now just above nine percent, the lines of people looking for help will continue to grow.