What's your elected official doing to fight poverty?


It's report card time. No, not for CPS students, but for Chicago lawmakers. The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law has put out a report card for every member of the U.S. House and Senate. The subject? What they're doing to fight poverty.

Nationwide, they found a trend that may or may not surprise you: states where legislators didn't vote for measures that would help people in poverty had the highest numbers of poor people.

"States with the highest poverty rates had delegations with the lowest average scores in voting to fight poverty," says the Shriver Center.

Overall, IIlinois ranked near the top of the list when it comes to having elected officials who extend votes to fight poverty - number 15. On average, our legislators got 73 percent, a good solid "C", on anti-poverty measures. How did Chicago's officials fair? Take a look.

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Chicago's 12 House members and our state's two senators got pretty good grades. Eleven members got an A or an A+ (teacher's pets...). But not everyone made the honor roll. Pete Roskam, Republican in the 6th district, got an F. The 13th's Judy Biggert, also a Republican, got a D, and former Republican Congressman-turned-Senator Mark Kirk got a C.

How were they being judged? Well, the Shriver Center made a list of recent relevant legislation on poverty policy. For example, in the Senate, they chose a bill that would have extended the TANF jobs program, a program that put people to work through subsidized jobs. In the House, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2011, that would have increased housing assistance money for poor families. They scored each senator's and representative's vote as a vote to fight poverty or not.

So, I wondered: if some of the poorest states had the worst records on fighting poverty, would that hold true for Chicago? I took each of our House representatives and compared their score from the Shriver Center to the percentage of poor families living in their district, according to the 2009 American Community Survey.

Here are the results:

If the same trend held true, we'd expect that the highest "grades" were next to the lowest poverty rates. But it doesn't seem to, unfortunately. Melissa Bean, who has a 93 percent rating from the Shriver Center, has the same level of poverty in her district as F-graded Pete Roskam.

But, the Shriver Center points out that it doesn't always hold true at the state level either. New Mexico's legislators have great scores for fighting poverty, but a large percentage of the state's families are still struggling.

That's the thing about poverty - the answer isn't so easy.

Note: Melissa Bean and Deborah Halvorson were both defeated in the 2011 midterm elections. The report was calculated based on their voting records while in office. 

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