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Illinois Poverty Up 24 Percent In The Last Decade, According To New Report

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The percentage of Illinoisans living below the poverty line rose dramatically over the last decade, according to new census data released Tuesday.

In 1999, the poverty rate in the state was 10.7 percent. The 2009 data, which is just coming to light, shows that 13.3 percent of Illinois was in poverty last year.

The American Community Survey, which released the new statistics, is a sort of mini-census conducted annually that polls roughly three million homes per year. A Midwest poverty advocacy group called The Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights analyzed the data for the region.

According to the Heartland Alliance's report, poverty was up significantly in a wide range of measures. Median household income fell from nearly $60,000 in 1999 to just under $54,000 last year, a 10 percent decrease. The proportion of the population in "extreme poverty" -- that is, living on less than half the federal poverty guideline -- rose 18 percent over the same period, with 140,000 new Illinoisans joining the ranks of the extremely poor. Six percent of the state's population now lives below that threshold, which comes out to $11,025 per year for a family of four.

The child poverty rate was up nearly 30 percent in the last decade. Now, 581,466 children in the state -- nearly one child in five -- live below the poverty line.

Amy Rynell, director of Heartland Alliance's Social IMPACT Research Center in Chicago, spoke with the Chicago Tribune about the ramifications of the new figures:

"The data clearly shows that the economic recovery is not hitting home for our workers across our region," Rynell said. "We have many people both out of work as well as struggling very hard to make ends [meet]. We have seen this through use of food pantries and through increases in homelessness. We know that we will have to have a concerted response in terms of public policy and programming to make sure people don't fall behind and are able to make ends meet for our families."

Unfortunately, the social safety net that Rynell hopes for is slowly eroding, as a massive state budget shortfall and a government unwilling to raise revenues leads to cuts in human services statewide.

The state faced a roughly $13 billion deficit this year, one of the worst in the nation. Governor Pat Quinn floated the idea of an income tax increase to fight off cuts in education, but there was insufficient political will for its passage. His opponent, Republican Bill Brady, has vowed not to raise taxes, instead planning a 10 percent across-the-board cut in government spending.

With Brady holding a sizable lead in the polls, the growing ranks of Illinois' poor may well face a shrinking array of services available to them starting next year.