Racism's Toll: 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 and timely 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 57 out of 102 Illinois counties have been placed on either the Poverty Watch (35) or Poverty Warning (22) lists.


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

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 3 months in the absence of income. Learn more about asset poverty and liquid 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.

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.

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. 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.

Infant Mortality

Deaths occurring to infants under 1 year of age per 1,000 live births.

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as non-white. Learn more about institutional racism.

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.

Racial Equity

Racial equity means that ideal situation in which society’s systems and markets perform equally well for different racial and ethnic groups. It means that our educational systems work as well for black Americans as they do for whites, that our justice systems works equally well, that our health systems work equally well. Learn more about racial equity.

Racial Justice

Racial justice is a proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes for all. Learn more about racial justice.

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).

Structural Racism 

Structural racism refers to how, as a society, we more or less take for granted a context of white leadership, dominance, and privilege. This dominant consensus on race is the frame that shapes our attitudes and judgments about social issues. It has come about as a result of the way that historically accumulated white privilege, national values, and contemporary culture have interacted so as to preserve the gaps between white Americans and Americans of color. Learn more about structural racism.

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.

Unbanked and Underbanked

Being unbanked refers to having neither a checking nor savings account. Underbanked refers to having a mainstream account but using alternative and often costly financial services for basic transaction and credit needs. Learn more about being unbanked and underbanked.

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.” Learn more about how unemployment is defined and measured.

White Privilege 

White privilege refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits, and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. Learn more about white privilege