Racism's Toll: Report on Illinois Poverty

Key Findings

Poverty rates are 2 to 3 times higher for Illinoisans of color, and people of color fare far worse on nearly every measure of well-being. In the latest of its annual reports on poverty, “Racism’s Toll,” Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center lays bare the moral, human, and economic cost of the deep inequities in the state.

Virtually all research on poverty shows that people of color are at a much greater risk of experiencing poverty across all age groups and across generations than whites. And mountains of other statistics and studies show the stark differences in outcomes, status, and experiences between whites and people of color:

  • Black children in Illinois are nearly 4 times more likely to live below the poverty line than white children.
  • The Illinois school districts with the most students of color receive 16% less in funding per student than districts serving the fewest students of color.
  • Unemployment rates are far higher for black Illinois workers than whites at every educational level.
  • Illinoisans of color are 2 to 3 times more likely to not have health insurance.
  • Black Illinoisans on average live 6 years less than whites.
  • Poor black (16%) and Latino (22%) Illinoisans are more likely to live within a mile of a hazardous chemical facility than poor whites (13%).
  • Nationally, the median net worth for a white household is $110,500 versus $6,314 for a black household.

On top of the moral and human costs, there is a significant economic toll to ignoring racial disparities. If racial differences in employment and income alone were eliminated, Illinois would gain $104 billion in GDP annually.

The reasons why people of color fare so much worse on matters of poverty and well-being are really no mystery. From land ownership to education to housing to transportation policy and everything in between, white Americans were handed the tools to realize their potential and get ahead. At best, these policy-induced advantages excluded people of color, but at worst they catalyzed a vicious cycle of deprivation, stripping them of their freedom, lands, safety, cultural practices, and dignity, and ensuring they were worse off than before.

Hundreds of years of institutionalized opportunities for white Americans and hundreds of years of institutionalized barriers for people of color have compounding effects over many generations. Hard work, dedication, and drive pay off a lot more for those whose families were built on land, loans, higher educations, good jobs, and other advantages supported and subsidized by our government.

As this report demonstrates, our history of racist policies and practices has created deep inequities between whites and people of color in Illinois and across the nation. To realize the promise of human rights for everyone, we must demand equitable opportunities and outcomes. This will require significant and bold policy change, as well as change across sectors and in personal actions.

  • We must dismantle policies that perpetuate inequality, and create policies that help ensure equity of opportunity and outcomes.
  • We should evaluate all new policy proposals with a racial justice lens.
  • We must all acknowledge our own roles and power to act.