Poor by Comparison: Report on Illinois Poverty

Key Findings

Poor by Comparison: Report on Illinois Poverty examines how Illinois compares to other states on over 25 key metrics associated with poverty and hardship.

By many accounts, Illinois should be a national leader on addressing poverty: Illinois is the fifth largest state, has a rich mix of industries, is home to world class educational institutions, and has a state economy larger than that of many independent nations. But when it comes to the well-being of its people, particularly those at the bottom of the economic spectrum, Illinois is not stepping up to be the leader it should be.

While there are some bright spots, on the whole, Illinois has plenty of room for improvement:

  • 34 states have a better unemployment rate than Illinois’s 6.4% as of November 2014
  • 33 states have a lower rate of households paying over half their income on rent than Illinois’s 24.2%
  • 24 states have a lower poverty rate than Illinois’s 14.7%
  • 22 states have a lower uninsured rate among children and working-age adults than Illinois’s 12.6%
  • 21 states have a better on-time high school completion rate than Illinois’s 82%
  • 17 states have a lower food insecurity rate than Illinois’s 14.2%
  • 15 states have a lower asset poverty rate than Illinois’s 23.5%

Compounding Illinois’s poor showing on these various indicators is the mounting state budget deficit and a tax structure that demands proportionately more from those who have less. If our state leaders want to build Illinois’s reputation as the best place to live, go to school, work, and play, they must make intentional, long-view decisions that shore up the well-being of all Illinoisans, especially the nearly one third with low incomes.

In addition to addressing the state budget’s structural deficit and tax policy, the report offers additional recommendations that, if implemented, would help ensure the people of Illinois can live the best lives possible and make Illinois more competitive in the process:

  • Improve access to programs, like Illinois’s Bright Start 529 college savings program, that help low- and moderate-income households save for post-secondary education.
  • Support rental housing subsidies, increase revenue for homeless prevention programs and supportive housing, and provide capital funds for construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing units.
  • Increase Illinois’s minimum wage to ensure low-wage workers earn enough to meet their basic needs.
  • Invest in outreach and enrollment assistance programs for Medicaid and the Illinois health insurance marketplace.
  • Strengthen exemption laws that protect a person’s bank account and other assets, up to a certain level, so those in debt can continue to work and support themselves and their families.