Data Notes and Definitions
Social Impact Research Center
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At the time of publication, all data used in this report were the most accurate available.
Use caution when comparing changes from one year to the next; some estimates have large associated margins of error.
Four key indicators of well-being are assessed in each of Illinois’ 102 counties: high school graduation rates, unemployment rates, teen birth rates, and poverty rates. Counties in Illinois are evaluated using a point system, with a higher number of points indicating a worse score. A county receives a point if its rate is worse than the state rate and/or if it has worsened since the previous year. For each indicator a total of 2 points is possible, and overall a total of 8 points is possible. Counties that score 4 or 5 points are placed on the Watch List, and counties that score 6, 7, or 8 points are placed on the Warning List.
Using this methodology, 39 Illinois counties have been placed on either the Poverty Watch (25) or Poverty Warning (14) lists.
The following are definitions of terms used throughout this website and throughout Illinois's 33%: Report on Illinois Poverty.
Assets are the building blocks of long-term financial stability and success for people at all income levels. Having a savings account, a college education, a home, or a small business can help individuals and families live securely today, weather difficult financial times, plan for the future, and pass assets on to the next generation. To be truly financially stable and secure, families must have both adequate income and assets.
Learn more about assets.
Defined as a household’s lack of savings or financial cushion that limits their ability to sustain temporary financial set-backs and subsist at the poverty level for 3 months—so that a crisis (such as job loss, illness, or divorce) can push a household into poverty or homelessness.
The assets included in this asset poverty analysis are those that can easily yield money in the short term without significantly affecting the day-to-day wellbeing of the household. This includes highly liquid assets (e.g., money in the bank and stocks, bonds, and mutual funds) as well as less liquid assets that certainly could be relied on in an effort to meet basic needs (equity in retirement accounts such as 401K, IRA, and Keogh, as well as equity in businesses or other investments). This also includes equity in real estate, including one's own home. Generally, the only household assets that were not determined to be readily liquefiable were those where the value to the household (i.e., the “use value”) is much higher than the market value. Such items include vehicles, furniture and appliances, jewelry, clothing, etc. Although it is possible to transform these valuables into cash, this could not occur without seriously undermining a family’s quality of life, and the re-acquisition of these items would cost far more than the amount that their sale yielded.
Debts were not factored into the analysis of asset poverty. Typically, the schedule for servicing debts is the same whether or not a household is in economic duress. As such, debts can be considered as another expense necessary to “meet basic needs." These expenses are accounted for in the process of ascertaining the asset poverty line.
Learn more about asset poverty.
A credit score is a credit bureau’s determination of an individual’s trustworthiness and likelihood to default on a loan. It is based on calculations of the individual’s past actions such as payment timeliness and past unpaid debt, and can have strong impacts on the individual’s financial opportunities in the future—e.g., to secure loans at low interest rates.
People living with family or friends for economic reasons.
Also called deep or severe poverty, extreme poverty is defined as living below 50% of the federal poverty threshold.
As defined by the federal government using food cost as a basis. There are two slightly different versions of the federal poverty measure: the poverty thresholds and the poverty guidelines. The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure. They are updated each year by the Census Bureau and are used mainly for statistical purposes—for instance, preparing estimates of the number of people in poverty each year. The poverty guidelines, also called the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), are the other version of the poverty measure. They are issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services and are a simplification of the poverty thresholds used for administrative purposes—for instance, determining financial eligibility for certain federal programs.
Learn more about poverty thresholds and guidelines.
Fair Market Rents
Fair Market Rents (FMRs) indicate the amount of money a given property would command if it were available for lease. The Department of Housing and Urban Development uses FMRs to determine the eligibility of rental housing units for the Section 8 Housing Assistance and Housing Voucher programs.
Learn more about FMRs.
Food insecurity is lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life, and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate food.
Learn more about food insecurity.
Free and Reduced Price School Lunch
Free and reduced price school lunch programs provide nutritionally-balanced, free or low-cost lunches to students in public and nonprofit private schools.
Learn more about free and reduced price lunch.
Head Start is a Federal program for preschool children from low-income families. The Head Start program is operated by local nonprofit organizations in almost every county in the country. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of educational activities. Most children in Head Start are between the ages of 3 and 5 years old.
Learn more about Head Start.
High School Graduation Rate
In Illinois, high school graduation rates are calculated using the following formula: graduates / original freshmen + transfer in - transfer out or died.
Learn more about calculating graduation rates.
School-age children and youth are considered homeless if they lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, including sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship; have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for human inhabitation; or who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, and other similar settings.
Learn more about homeless children and youth.
Human services is something of a catch-all category covering a broad range of programs, services, and facilities provided to the public that are designed to enhance the quality of life and well-being of people and communities. In most cases, human services are provided by public, quasi-public, and/or private agencies at the community level and include programs and services such as affordable housing, child care, mental health and substance use treatment, and job training, as well as those targeting specific populations such as immigrants, seniors, or people experiencing homelessness.
Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT)
The (ISAT) measures individual student achievement relative to the Illinois Learning Standards. It is a standardized test on reading and math (and science in grades 4 and 7) given each year in grades 3 through 8.
Learn more about the ISAT.
Low Birth Weight
Low birth weight is defined as a birth weight of less than 2,500 grams (approximately 5 pounds, 8 ounces).
Also called near poor or working poor, low-income is defined as living between 100% and 199% of the poverty threshold—an income level where people often have trouble meeting their basic needs due to the cost of living (e.g., rent, child care, health insurance).
Rent-Burdened Households and Severely Rent-Burdened Households
Households are rent burdened when they spend over 30% of their income on housing. Households are severely rent burdened when they spend over half of their income on housing. Renter costs include contract rent plus the estimated average monthly cost of utilities (electricity, gas, water, and sewer) and fuels (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.) if these are paid by the renter (or paid for the renter by someone else).
A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in production, employment, real income, and other indicators. A recession begins when the economy reaches a peak of activity and ends when the economy reaches its trough. The Great Recession began in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009.
Learn more about recessions.
The Self-Sufficiency wage represents the earnings needed to pay for basic necessities without public or private assistance. In Illinois, self-sufficiency wages are calculated for 108 geographies and for over 150 family types.
Learn more about the Illinois Self-Sufficiency Standard.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Formerly called food stamps, SNAP provides low-income families with supplemental income to buy food.
Learn more about SNAP.
Teen Birth Rate
The teen birth rate is the number of births to women ages 15 to 19 per 1,000 women of that age in the population.
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
TANF, also called public assistance or welfare, provides cash assistance to very low-income families with children.
Learn more about TANF.
Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work. This definition of unemployment leads to an undercount as people who are discouraged from job seeking or those who are only marginally attached to the workforce (i.e., are not employed but currently want a job, have looked for work in the last 12 months, and are available for work) are classified as “not in the labor force” instead of “unemployed.”
Learn more about how unemployment is defined and measured.