By Jamey Dunn
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that poverty continued to grow in Illinois in 2011.
According to estimates from the census bureau’s American Community Survey, about 1.9 million Illinoisans were living in poverty in 2011. That compares with about 1.7 million living below the poverty line in 2010. Last year, the census bureau considered a family of three with a household income of $17,916 or less to be living in poverty; in 2010 it was $17,374 for three people.
In 2011, 15 percent of Illinois residents were living in poverty, which is a jump from 13.8 percent in 2010. The numbers from the census bureau are the most current comprehensive statistics available on poverty. For more on 2010 poverty numbers, see this Illinois Issues Blog post.
According to the bureau's findings, the median household income in the state has been slipping during the last three years for which figures are available. In 2011, it was $53,234, down from $58,743 in 2008.
Nationally, the poverty rate held relatively steady. It was 15.3 percent in 2010 and increased slightly to 15.9 percent in 2011. About 48.5 million Americans were living in poverty last year.
Of those living in poverty in Illinois last year, 648,592 were children. In 2011, the child poverty rate was 21 percent. That was a significant jump from 2010, when 590,949 children were living in poverty and the rate was 19.4 percent. One out of four children under the age of 5 was living in poverty last year.
“These near-unprecedented poverty levels are not simply the result of the recession and a sluggish recovery. Poverty was on the rise before the recession began as broader shifts in wages, job quality, workforce preparation, inequality and harmful cuts to the safety net disproportionately impacted people at the lower end of the income spectrum,” Amy Rynell, director of the Social IMPACT Research Center at the Heartland Alliance, said of the new poverty stats.
The Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty, which includes members of the Heartland Alliance, set the goal of cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015, but the new statistics show that the state is losing ground. Extreme poverty is defined as an income that is less than half of the federal poverty level. Almost 100,000 more Illinoisans were living in extreme poverty in 2011 than in 2010. Nationwide, 21.4 million people lived in extreme poverty in 2011.The commission suggests that the state tackle extreme poverty through a series of policy changes, including increasing housing subsidies, increasing the number of families who receive welfare support and increasing access to community college scholarships.