State lawmakers have made some progress in recent years but could be doing a lot more to help people living in poverty in Illinois, according to a new report.
According to the state-specific study from the Center for American Progress, Illinois has the 25th-highest poverty rate in the nation. The report's lead author, Rachel West, associate director of the center's Poverty to Prosperity Program, said one factor is Illinois' unemployment rate of more than 7 percent, one of the highest in the nation. To help with that, she suggested that Illinois could join other states by enacting the Apprenticeship and Job Training Act.
"In terms of addressing unemployment and in addressing any skills gaps that exist," she said, "that could be a really important option for Illinois policymakers as well."
Still, West pointed to recent positive moves by state lawmakers, such as a 2014 Illinois law that bans employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications. She said this change helps thousands of rehabilitated former offenders find jobs.
Two years ago, Illinois lawmakers also were first in the nation to set up a mandatory statewide retirement savings program for workers. West said this is one way to help close Illinois' higher-than-average income inequality gap, while also helping private-sector workers avoid a retirement savings crisis.
"In absence of national, federal action to address that crisis," she said, "state policymakers have in Illinois sort of led the way in coming up with a creative way to help workers save for retirement."
The report listed other suggestions for reducing poverty in Illinois, including raising wages for low-paid workers and setting up a paid family leave program.
The report is online at cdn.americanprogress.org.