Poverty worse across Illinois

Heartland Alliance issues new report placing more than half of all state counties on a watch list



By Ted Cox

A new study finds poverty worsening across Illinois.

A study released this week by the Social IMPACT Research Center at Heartland Alliance placed more than half of the state's 102 counties on a poverty watch list.

Considered an update to the organization's poverty report issued last year, it placed 52 of Illinois's 102 counties on a poverty watch list, up from 30 last year, while finding that almost a third of state residents are below the poverty line or considered low-income.

Using 2016 census data, the alliance issued a statewide map showing poverty widespread by county. The study found that poverty was increasing in Chicago suburbs, and that while all the collar counties are considered relatively healthy, with poverty rates below 12 percent, all had more than 20,000 people below the poverty line.

According to the alliance, its County Well-Being Index "highlights counties that are experiencing particularly negative conditions and trends on four key indicators: poverty, unemployment, teen births, and high-school graduation."

The alliance urged "that Illinois communities need meaningful investments, economic opportunity, and policies that work to bring equity to all communities."

The new report placed five counties on a warning list: Calhoun, Mason, Morgan, Stephenson, and Wayne.

It found 15 counties with poverty rates above 18 percent: DeKalb, McDonough, Schuyler, Champaign, Vermillion, Macon, Coles, Marion, Jackson, Franklin, Saline, Hardin, Massac, Pulaski, and Alexander.

While the state poverty rate improved since the Great Recession, dropping to 13 percent from 13.8 percent in 2010, almost half those people, 6 percent of the total Illinois population, remain in extreme poverty, with 16.5 percent, or more than 2 million of the state's 12.5 million residents, considered low-income.

It cited federally established poverty levels, with a single person in extreme poverty with an annual income of $6,000, in poverty at $12,000, and low income at $25,000. For a family of three, extreme poverty is an annual income of $9,000, with the poverty line at $19,000, and low income at $38,000.

The update builds on findings that two out of five African-American children are living in poverty in Illinois, one of four Hispanic children. The alliance has also pointed to a spiral effect for working families, with lowered wages leading to domestic violence and trauma, which in turn can lead to poverty.

Poverty creates exponential problems for working families including the so-called diaper divide, with families unable to pay for basic needs like diapers, and in child care, where uncertainty in government programs has led to diminished enrollment.

The alliance, considered one of the world's leading anti-poverty groups, plans to release a follow-up "narrative report" on poverty in the fall.