Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday January 30th, 2014, 3:18pm

New Report Provides Sobering Look At Illinois Poverty Trends Over 50 Years

A new report from the Social IMPACT Research Center at the Heartland Alliance finds that the poverty rate in Illinois, at about 15 percent in 2012, is the same as it was in 1960.

The report, which comes on the heels of the War on Poverty's 50th anniversary, also shows that 388,000 Illinoisans still live in poverty despite having someone in their household who works full-time.  

“Today, the jobs that are available at the low-skilled end of the economy simply don’t provide wages and benefits that create economic security,” Social IMPACT Research Center Director Amy Terpstra said in a statement. “What this means is that, in Illinois, you can work full time and still be living in poverty.”

Since 1960, the number of working age Illinois men and women in poverty has increased, poverty rates have barely changed for African Americans and Latinos, and women are still more likely to be poor than men, the report showed.

For men ages 18 to 64 in the state, the poverty rate jumped from 8.9 percent in 1960 to 12.1 percent in 2012. For women ages 18 to 64, poverty grew from 12 percent to 15.3 percent during the same time period. 

As of 2012, 32 percent of African Americans and 21.4 percent of Latinos in Illinois lived in poverty. That hasn't changed much since 1960, when the poverty rate was 35.8 percent among African Americans and 20.7 percent among Latinos. Moreover, 44.6 percent of African American children and 27.8 percent of Latino children in the state were living in poverty in 2012, compared to 10.8 percent of white children. Unemployment influences poverty rates, and the report noted that nearly 1 in 2 black males ages 16 to 24 are jobless and cannot find work.

“As a nation and as a state, we have made important investments in safety net programs that help lift many people out of poverty and ease the hardship of being poor. But poverty is still a reality for 1.9 million Illinoisans,” Terpstra added. “Significant economic, demographic, and legislative shifts occurred in the last 50 years and many War on Poverty programs were not large enough or designed to offset these significant changes. As a result workers are struggling to support their families, more women are poor, and racial inequality persists.”

Over the past 50 years, however, there has been some progress in fighting poverty in Illinois.

Poverty among senior citizens in the state went down significantly from 29.8 percent in 1960 to 8.8 percent in 2012 thanks to the expansion of Social Security and Medicare, among other programs. Although poverty has dropped among this population, it is also important to note that nearly half of the country's senior citizens are economically vulnerable and have incomes that are less than two times the supplemental poverty line.

Also, 68 of Illinois' 102 counties had poverty rates above 20 percent back in 1960. But as of 2012, only 10 counties had poverty rates that high. Those 10 counties include Alexander, Champaign, Coles, Hardin, Jackson, Macon, McDonough, Pope, Pulaski and Saline.

But that doesn't mean the remaining counties are in the clear. The report placed 45 of Illinois' 102 counties on a "Poverty Watch" or a "Poverty Warning" list this year based on poverty, unemployment, teen birth and high school graduation rates. The counties on the warning list that should "initiative corrective action" include Kankakee, Lawrence, Macon, Peoria, Pulaski, Saline, Stephenson, Vermilion and Wayne.

The report also highlighted some of the newer poverty trends in the state, including a spike in suburbanites who are living in poverty. Currently, half of the Chicago region's poor population lives in the suburbs.

Additionally, the "rapid rise in criminal sentencing laws" means a greater number of people in the state have criminal records, making them more susceptible to poverty because they have a harder time landing jobs and obtaining housing and other supports. In 2011 alone, 31,155 people were released from Illinois prisons, the report noted.

The report offered a number of recommendations for tackling today's poverty, including raising Illinois' minimum wage and keeping state funding intact for human services programs. Among other suggestions, the state could set up an "Illinois Children Savings Account Program" that would create a savings account for every child.

Meanwhile, a separate report also released this week from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) showed that more than one-third of Illinois households are currently living in a "persistent state of financial insecurity."

According to CFED’s 2014 "Assets & Opportunity Scorecard", more than 38 percent of Illinois households do not have the adequate savings needed to create a more secure future or to pay for unexpected setbacks, like the loss of a job or a health crisis. That percentage is down a bit from last year, when 42 percent of Illinois households were one crisis away from economic devastation, according to CFED.

Also, only 43.8 percent of workers in Illinois have access to a retirement savings account through their employer, according to the report, which is published annually and looks at each U.S. state and the District of Columbia. The scorecard examines the ability of residents to "save and build wealth, fend off poverty and create a more prosperous future." Illinois was ranked as the 33rd best state when it comes to the overall financial security of its residents.

“All Illinois residents deserve access to the tools they need to build financially secure futures for themselves and their children,” Lucy Mullany, senior policy associate with the Heartland Alliance, said in a statement. Mullany is also a coordinator of the Illinois Asset Building Group, a lead state organization for the National Assets & Opportunity Network.

“The data from the scorecard should motivate state and local policymakers to invest in policies and systems that prevent further asset erosion and remove savings barriers facing so many families.”

Chart: Courtesy of Social IMPACT Research Center
Image: Thinkstock/Wavebreak Media

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