Illinois's 33%: One in Three Illinoisans Live in or Near Poverty According to Heartland Alliance

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A new report from Chicago-based Social IMPACT Research Center (IMPACT), a program of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights, shows that one in three Illinoisans live in or near poverty. "Illinois’s 33%: Report on Illinois Poverty" explores key questions about poverty: Why does it exist? Who is at risk? Which communities are most affected? And, what are some solutions?

Phone: 312.870.4940

Contact: Allyson Stewart 312.870.4940

One third of Illinois residents are in poverty or near it. Over one in five of our children are poor. And the situation has only gotten worse in recent years, with poverty among all ages rising from 11.9 percent in 2007 to 15.0 percent most recently

One in three Illinoisans live in or near poverty, according to a new report released today by the Chicago-based Social IMPACT Research Center, a program of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights.

Illinois’s 33%: Report on Illinois Poverty” explores key questions about poverty: Why does it exist? Who is at risk? Which communities are most affected? And, what are some solutions?

The answers point to a crisis that impacts every community in Illinois. This crisis has gotten worse since the recession ended and has been deepened by recent budget cuts that jeopardize the very programs and policies that help reduce poverty and hardship.

“One third of Illinois residents are in poverty or near it. Over one in five of our children are poor. And the situation has only gotten worse in recent years, with poverty among all ages rising from 11.9 percent in 2007 to 15.0 percent most recently,” said Amy Rynell, senior director, Social IMPACT Research Center, and one of the report’s authors. “This report provides reliable information about the scope and scale of poverty in Illinois so that our state and local leaders, concerned citizens, funders, businesses, communities of faith, and community-based organizations have a better sense of how to approach ending poverty at a critical point in history.”

The report also profiles several people living in and near poverty.

Carolyn Schutz, a single senior woman with a college degree, is one of Illinois’s 33 percent. Living in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Carolyn used to work as a bookkeeper and business manager for nonprofits. Then she lost her full-time job, and now she can only find part-time work.

“At $8.25 an hour, which is the minimum wage in Illinois, I’m only grossing $99 every week,” said Ms. Schutz. “People that I would ordinarily meet would be surprised to find out how much I’m struggling. Even a $1 cup of coffee at McDonald’s isn’t possible for me, […] to me that’s like $100.”

Rodney Dawkins lives in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. After years of struggling on the streets, the start of Rodney’s transition out of poverty came in the form of a housing voucher—a federal subsidy program for assisting people with very low incomes, seniors, and people with disabilities to afford safe and sanitary housing in the private market.

“It gives you stability, it helps you prepare yourself if you’re going out for interviews, you don’t have to worry about getting any sleep, or getting your clothes ready, you don’t have to worry about sleeping on the train all night and then not being able to freshen yourself up,” Mr. Dawkins said. “If it was not for my subsidy, I would be probably sleeping under Wacker Drive.”

You can read the entire report and listen to the witnesses to poverty, including Ms. Schutz, Mr. Dawkins, and others, at

IMPACT analyzed the most recent indicators from the U.S. Census Bureau and other key sources to create the report, which provides a primer on the “who, where, why, and what” of poverty in Illinois.

Who is poor in Illinois?

Nearly 1.9 million Illinoisans (15.0 percent) live in poverty. A family of four is poor if its annual income is below $23,021.

Of the 1.9 million Illinoisans experiencing poverty:

  • 55 percent are female
  • 35 percent are children
  • 46 percent are minorities
  • 84 percent are native born
  • 14 percent have a disability
  • 46 percent are in extreme poverty, with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty level

Another 2.2 million Illinoisans (17.9 percent) are living close enough to the poverty line (with incomes between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level) that they could easily fall below it at any time. Together these two groups of Illinoisans comprise Illinois’s 33 percent.

Where do they live?

Poverty is not restricted by geography. Large cities, suburbs, and small rural areas across Illinois are affected:

  • Twenty-eight of Illinois’s 102 counties have poverty rates between 15 and 20 percent.
  • Nine counties have poverty rates over 20 percent.
  • In Chicago, 9 out of 77 neighborhoods have poverty rates of 35 percent or greater.
  • Even in the six suburban counties around Chicago, generally thought to be more affluent, at least 20 percent of residents are poor or near it.

To accompany the report, IMPACT established a County Well-Being Index that tracks and scores each Illinois county’s change in poverty, unemployment, teen births, and high school graduations. This year, 39 out of 102 counties are on either the Poverty Watch or Poverty Warning Lists. You can find out if your county is on the list and access other county-level data at

Why does poverty exist?

Economic forces, such as unemployment, declining wage levels, and growing inequality, have a direct impact on poverty. When combined with other hardships like inadequate education, high rent burden, poor health, and lack of access to financial asset-building opportunities, these economic forces create a climate ripe for poverty growth. For example:

  • Every one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate causes a 0.5 percentage point increase in the poverty rate. Conversely, a 10 percent increase in median wage lowers the poverty rate by 1.5 percentage points.
  • The more education a person has, the more likely he or she will avoid economic hardship. Yet the value of a high school education has eroded: workers with a high school diploma are earning 7 percent less now than they did 40 years ago (when adjusted for inflation), and workers without a high school diploma are earning 21 percent less now they did 40 years ago.
  • In Illinois, there are only 59 available affordable rental units for every 100 low-income renter households.
  • Medical problems caused 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies filed in the United States in 2007; three quarters of those filers had medical insurance at the start of their illnesses.
  • One in four Illinois households does not have enough money saved to protect it from a sudden drop in income.

What can we do to end poverty in Illinois?

Recognizing that poverty has no single cause, IMPACT offers the state several recommendations for addressing poverty.

  • Increase the minimum wage (currently $8.25 per hour in Illinois), and expand it to include domestic workers, workers under 18 years old, and workers who rely primarily on tips for their wages so that people who work don’t remain trapped in poverty.
  • Increase access to the state’s 529 college savings program, making college an attainable dream for more Illinois children.
  • Return homeless prevention funding to previous levels to help more families remain housed.
  • Fully implement the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and state-based health insurance exchange, and support Illinois’s transition to care coordination programs to help improve health outcomes and maximize cost-effectiveness.
  • Expand retirement saving opportunities through an automatic retirement account program to help struggling families build wealth and escape financial insecurity.

“We believe housing, health care, jobs, and justice are the way out of poverty,” said Sid Mohn, president, Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights and co-chair of the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty. “Heartland Alliance has refocused our organizational mission squarely on ending poverty. It is my hope that this report serves as a wakeup call to our state leaders, and they will be compelled to follow Heartland Alliance’s lead by re-committing to ending poverty in Illinois. This report gives elected leaders a roadmap for how to do so.”

The report was developed by the Social IMPACT Research Center, a program of Heartland Alliance, with support from The Chicago Community Trust, Grand Victoria Foundation, and The Libra Foundation.

To view the report, visit

CONTACT: Allyson Stewart                    
Email: alstewart(at)heartlandalliance(dot)org    
Phone: 312.870.4940

CONTACT: Chris Lackner
Email: chris(at)lacknerandrews(dot)com
Phone: 773.991.1908


The Social Impact Research Center (IMPACT) provides dynamic research and analysis on today’s most pressing social issues and solutions to inform and equip those working toward a just global society. IMPACT regularly reports on key trends related to poverty so that decision makers better understand how to address it through programs and public policy. For more information, visit, follow us on Twitter at, or like us on Facebook at

Heartland Alliance is the leading anti-poverty organization in the Midwest and believes that all of us deserve the opportunity to improve our lives. Each year, we help ensure this opportunity for more than one million people around the world who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety. Our policy efforts strengthen communities; our comprehensive services empower those we serve to rebuild and transform their lives.

In 2013, Heartland Alliance celebrates its 125th year of fighting to end poverty in Illinois and throughout the world. For more information, visit:, follow us on Twitter at, or like us on Facebook at

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