50 Years Later: 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 45 out of 102 Illinois counties have been placed on either the Poverty Watch (36) or Poverty Warning (9) lists.

* The County Well-Being Index for 2014 has been calculated out of a total of 7 points rather than 8 due to the delayed release of new teen birth data and should not be compared to other years.


The following are definitions of terms used throughout this website and throughout 50 Years Later: Report on Illinois Poverty.

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 ACA.


Assets are the building blocks of long-term financial stability and success for people at all income levels. They are described as liquid assets if they can be easily turned into cash (e.g. back accounts, stocks, bonds, and retirement accounts). Other assets are that are more difficult to turn into cash include a college education, a business, vehicles, homes and other real estate. Learn more about assets.

Asset Poverty and Liquid Asset Poverty

Asset poverty is defined as having insufficient net worth (all available assets minus all costs) to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income. Liquid asset poverty is having insufficient liquid assets (see above) to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income. Learn more about asset poverty.

BESTTM Index Cost of Living Wage

The Basic Economic Security TablesTM, or BESTTM Index, is a cost of living tool that measures how much income families need to meet their most basic expenses. The BESTTM Index is based on real local costs for different family compositions and makes clear how much families in over 100 geographies in Illinois can expect to pay for basic necessities such as housing, health care, transportation, food, child care—and what sort of an income they need to afford these things without additional supports. Learn more about the Illinois BESTTM Index.

Credit Building Individual Development Accounts (IDAs)

Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are special savings accounts that match the deposits of low- and moderate-income people. For every dollar saved in an IDA, savers receive a corresponding match which serves as both a reward and an incentive to further the saving habit. Savers agree to complete financial education classes and use their savings for an asset-building purpose – typically for post-secondary education or job training, home purchase, or to capitalize a small business. Learn more about IDAs.

Credit Score

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. Learn more about credit scores.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

EITC, sometimes called EIC, is a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families. When EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who qualify for and claim the credit. Learn more about the EITC.

Extreme Poverty

Also called deep or severe poverty, extreme poverty is defined as living below 50% of the federal poverty threshold.

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.

Head Start

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.

Homeless Student

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.

Housing Choice Voucher

The Housing Choice Voucher program, sometimes referred to as Section 8, is a federal program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments. Learn more about the Housing Choice Voucher program.

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.

Income Poverty

Based on food costs, income poverty is defined by the federal government in two slightly different versions of the 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.

Low Birth Weight

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

Low Income

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).


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.


Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD). Learn more about Medicare.

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.

Social Security

Established in 1935, social security is a social insurance program that provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to workers and their families. Workers pay payroll taxes while they are employed and employers pay matching contributions. Then guaranteed benefits are available to support to workers and their families in retirement, or when they lose their livelihood due to career-ending disability or death of a family worker. Learn more about Social Security.

Subsidized and Transitional Jobs

Subsidized jobs are those for which the employer receives a subsidy from public funds to offset some or all the wages and costs of employing an individual. Transitional jobs are subsidized jobs that combine work with a separate program of skills and soft skill development to help individuals facing barriers to employment succeed in the workforce. Learn more about subsidized and transitional jobs.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Formerly called food stamps, SNAP provides low-income families with supplemental income to buy food. Learn more about SNAP.

Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM)

The Supplemental Poverty Measure is an effort to build on the current federal poverty measure—which many experts agree is outdated and underestimates poverty—and take into account the impact of government benefit programs and tax credits to obtain an improved understanding of the economic well-being of American families and of how federal policies affect those living in poverty. The SPM is a more complex and refined statistic, including such additional items as tax payments and work expenses in estimating family resources. The supplemental measure is not the measure used to estimate eligibility for government programs. Instead, it is an additional macroeconomic statistic, providing further understanding of economic conditions and trends. Learn more about the SPM.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people with little or no income, SSI is a federal income supplement that provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Learn more about SSI.

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.

Undocumented Immigrant

An undocumented immigrant is a noncitizen without a lawful immigration status who entered the U.S. without proper inspection or was lawfully admitted but whose status expired or was revoked. These immigrants are ineligible for most state and all federal benefits in education, health care, employment, among others.


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.