Post-Recession Illinois Poverty Rates Didn't Decline

Jan 30, 2015

 The poverty rate in Illinois has held steady in recent years despite the nation’s post-Great Recession status.

That’s according to a report issued this week by the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center. The group reported that the 14.7 percent poverty rate in Illinois for the 2013 (the most recent data available for the analysis) has been unchanged since 2012. The 2011 poverty rate was slightly higher than that at 15 percent.

“Our poverty rate continued to go up in the recession and has kept leveling off, but we still haven’t seen the declines that other places have seen,” says Amy Terpstra, director of research for the center.

This year’s report focused on how Illinois stands in measures related to poverty as compared to the other states in the nation. “On the surface of things, it seems like we should be doing really well” considering the size of the state’s economy, its varied mix of industries and assets such as major universities. But in a word, Illinois’ status is “mediocre,” she says.

Here are a few numbers about how the ranks in those poverty-related measures:

—   34 states had lower unemployment rates than Illinois’ 6.4 percent (in November).

—   33 states had fewer households paying more than half their income on rent.

—   24 states had a lower poverty rate for children.

As Terpstra says, the unemployment and poverty rates go hand-in-hand.

This is the 15th year the Alliance has created a poverty report, and she said, it was a logical next step to compare Illinois to other states.

The climate for business is a frequent topic of discussion, Terpstra says, but there’s less talk about what makes it a good place for people.

Much of the reason for Illinois’ “mediocre” showing is that extreme financial distress for the states has resulted in cuts in the infrastructure to assist the impoverished. Those cuts include spending on grants for low-income students, child-care for working parents and homelessness prevent.  “We’ve really gutted our human services.’’

In a media release on the report, Heartland Alliance President Sid Mohn said, “Compounding Illinois’ poor showing on these various indicators is the mounting state budget deficit and a tax structure that demands proportionately more from those who live with less. If our state leaders want to build Illinois’ reputation as the best place to live, go to school, work and play, they most make intentional long-view decisions that shore up the well-being of all Illinoisans, especially the one third with low incomes,’’ said Mohn, who also co-chairs the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty.

The report makes recommendations on addressing the poverty situation in the state. They include creating better access to programs helping low- and middle-income families to afford higher education, boosting subsidies for such programs as rent assistance and homelessness prevention and hiking the state’s $8.25 minimum wage.