Poor by Comparison: Report on Illinois Poverty

Data Notes and Definitions

Data Notes

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.

Well-Being Index

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, this year 46 out of 102 Illinois counties have been placed on either the Poverty Watch (42) or Poverty Warning (4) lists.


The following are definitions of terms used throughout this website and throughout the report.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

ACA is a law that puts in place comprehensive health insurance reforms intended to improve quality and lower health care costs, add new consumer protections, and increase access to health care. Learn more about the ACA.

Asset Poverty and Liquid Asset Poverty

Asset poverty is 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. Liquid asset poverty is defined as having insufficient savings or financial assets that are liquid (i.e., easy to sell or convert into cash without any loss in value) to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income. Learn more about asset poverty.

Fair Market Rents (FMRs)

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.


Foreclosure is the process of taking possession of a mortgaged property as a result of the mortgagor’s failure to keep up mortgage payments.

Food Insecurity

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.

GDP or Gross Domestic Product

GDP is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period, usually calculated on an annual basis. It includes all of private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports less imports that occur within a defined territory. Real GDP by state is an inflation–adjusted measure of each state’s gross product that is based on national prices for the goods and services produced within that state. Learn more about GDP and state GDP.

Income Poverty

Determining if an individual or family is income poor involves tallying up a family’s annual income and determining if the amount falls below the poverty threshold for the family’s size. If the annual income does fall below the threshold, then the family and every individual in it is considered to be in poverty. Non-relatives, such as housemates, do not count. The official poverty thresholds do not vary geographically and are updated each year for inflation. Money income used to compute poverty status includes the following (before taxes, noncash benefits and capital gains/losses do not count): earnings, unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, public assistance, veterans’ payments, survivor benefits, pension or retirement income, interest, dividends, rents, royalties, income from estates and trusts, educational assistance, alimony, child support assistance from outside the household, and other miscellaneous sources.

Learn more about poverty thresholds and guidelines

Low Birth Weight

Low birth weight is defined as a birth weight of less than 2,500 grams (approximately 5 pounds, 8 ounces).


Medicaid is a jointly funded, Federal-State health insurance program for certain individuals and families with low incomes and few resources. Learn more about Medicaid.

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 50% 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).

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.


Being unbanked refers to having neither a checking nor savings account. Learn more about being unbanked.

Unemployment and Comprehensive Unemployment Rate

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.”

The official unemployment rate reflects the number of unemployed persons as a percent of the total civilian workforce. The comprehensive unemployment rate, called alternative measures of labor underutilization by the Bureau of Labor Statics or U-6, also includes all marginally attached/discouraged workers, plus involuntary part-time workers. Learn more about how unemployment is defined and measured.