Metro-East News

Poverty falls across state, but still looms over minorities and women

The number of people in poverty in Illinois decreased by 100,000 from 2014 to 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The drop, about a 0.8 percent decrease, reflected an overall trend in the Unites States, which saw median household income increase about 5.2 percent overall during that time.

However, some groups caution against being overly optimistic.

“While we are pleased to see the poverty rate generally moving in the right direction, we can’t lose sight of the fact that a staggering number of Illinoisans are still struggling every day to meet their most basic needs,” Amy Terpstra, director of research at Heartland Alliance, an anti-poverty organization based in Chicago, wrote in a press release. The organization also noted that the poverty is still higher than it was in 2007 before the Great Recession.

In St. Clair County, poverty declined to 41,500 from 50,500, a 17.8 percent difference. In 2014, the Census Bureau estimated that 19.3 percent of the county was below the poverty line. That dropped to 16 percent overall in 2015.

Still, the county is below the national poverty rate of 14.7 percent.

In Madison County, the percent of people in poverty remained almost unchanged, dropping to 33,250 from about 34,000, for a 1.7 percent difference. Despite this, Madison County has less poverty overall compared to St. Clair County. In 2014, the Census Bureau estimated that just 13 percent of county was below the poverty line, declining to 12.9 percent in 2015.

Those numbers, though heartening to some, do not tell the whole story, as poverty levels for women and minorities still lag behind those of men and white people.

“The problem is that sometimes these kinds of reports mask the persistent hardships and inequities and income inequality we have here in Illinois,” Joel Rubin of the National Association of Social Workers said.

The problem is that sometimes these kinds of reports mask the persistent hardships and inequities and income inequality we have here in Illinois.

Joel Rubin of National Association of Social Workers

Disparities between white and black residents in St. Clair and Madison Counties, for example, remained wide.

In St. Clair County, poverty among African-Americans fell from about 38 to 34 percent, and poverty among whites fell to about 8 percent from 10 percent. That means that black residents were roughly four times as likely to be below the poverty line.

In Madison County, poverty remained at around 11 percent for white people, but for African-Americans, it was more than three times higher, at 34.5 percent.

Poverty among men and women stayed roughly the same in Madison County, though women were about 2.5 points behind men. In St. Clair County, where poverty levels dropped significantly, the disparity between men and women below the poverty line actually grew by one point, from about four percent to five.

The margin of error — how much the percentages could vary — for white residents, men and women, in both Madison and St. Clair Counties was low, within 3 percent. However, the margin of error for black residents was 5 percent in St. Clair County and around nine percent in Madison County, because there are fewer African Americans than whites, which makes accurate measurements harder.

Still, in the best-case scenario for the margin of error — that 9 more percent of black residents in Madison County were below the poverty line, for example — that would mean that poverty was still more than twice as prevalent among African-Americans than among whites there.

The margins of error for people of Hispanic or Latino origin in St. Clair and Madison Counties were even higher, though poverty levels varied between 20 and 34 percent between the two counties.

Poverty among children in 2015, was also high, around 25 percent and 16 percent in St. Clair and Madison Counties, respectively.

Finally, in 2015, people at 50 percent below the poverty level came in at 7.5 and six percent of residents in St. Clair and Madison Counties, respectively. The margin of error was high, about 20 percent in both counties.

“The lesson is that our lowest income residents are the first to be impacted by an economic crisis, they experience the most hardship, and they are the last to experience any recovery,” said Sam Tuttle, director of policy at Heartland Alliance.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel

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