Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday October 7th, 2013, 3:12pm

Census Bureau: Poverty Rate Remains High In Illinois

Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that Illinois' poverty rate continued to hover near 15 percent last year.

According to the new American Community Survey data, 14.7 percent Illinoisans, or 1.85 million people, were living in poverty in 2012. That's not much of a statistical change from 2011, when 15 percent of people, or 1.88 million, were in poverty.

At the national level, the poverty rate also remained fixed last year at 15 percent, impacting some 46.5 million Americans.

"Both nationally and in Illinois, more people were working over the course of the year, and that didn't translate into decreased poverty," said Amy Terpstra, associate director of the Heartland Alliance's Social IMPACT Research Center.

The unemployment and poverty lines typically trend together, Terpstra said. But the new statistics are a step away from the norm, which is "really concerning because it says something about the quality of jobs," she said.

The state-level report also shows that more than one-third of Illinois' population continues to be low-income.

"That's one in three people in the state who are economically insecure," Terpstra said. "We're not setting the bar really high here for economic security."

The federal poverty threshold last year was an annual income of $11,720 for an individual or $23,492 for a family of four. The new data shows the U.S. median household income was $51,371 last year, not much of a change compared to $51,324 in 2011. It is, however, the first time since 2007 that the median household income did not decrease.

Here in the Prairie State, the median household income last year was $55,137, a 1.4 percent increase from 2011. Illinois joined only three other states, including Hawaii, Massachusetts and Oregon, that showed increased income levels between 2011 and 2012.

"While there might be some people who are feeling the effects of the recovery, that has not trickled down to people at the bottom of the economic latter," Trepstra stressed.

But there were some sunny statistics in the report. The number of uninsured people in Illinois has gone down over the past few years. In 2012, 14.5 percent of Illinoisans were uninsured, down from 15.5 in 2010. Those covered by public insurance also ticked up to 20.8 percent in 2012 from 19.9 percent in 2010. Those numbers are expcted to decline with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The uninsured rate also decreased in the Chicago metropolitan area to 13.9 percent in 2012, down from 14.3 percent in 2011.

But the region's poverty rate, 14.5 percent, and median household income, $59,261, were not statistically different from last year.

Samantha Tuttle, director of policy and advocacy at the Heartland Alliance, said raising the state's current $8.25 minimum wage would reduce poverty in the state. 

Gov. Pat Quinn called for a minimum wage hike to $10 an hour during his State of the State address earlier this year, and he has more recently reignited the push during his re-election campaign. Meanwhile, a bill introduced in the Senate back in 2011 to boost the minimum wage hasn't left committee.

If the state's minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be more than $10.50 an hour by now, Tuttle said.

"Illinois workers have taken steps backwards in terms of what it means to make the minimum wage and how that supports them and their families," she stressed.

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