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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 12:07 am

Poverty decreased slightly in 2015

New census data shows weak recovery from long slide

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER KOHAMA/TNS

 

More than 1.7 million Illinoisans lived in poverty last year, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week.

That’s an improvement over 2014, but not nearly enough to erase the steady increase in poverty since 2000. Meanwhile, nearly 32,000 people in Sangamon County lived in poverty last year.

The Census Bureau released its 2015 American Community Survey on Sept. 15, detailing poverty levels, income, health insurance coverage and other figures for the U.S. population last year. No state saw an increase in poverty rate for 2015, the data show, and 23 states saw a decrease. Illinois was one of those states, but Sangamon County didn’t share in the success.

The poverty rate in Illinois decreased from 14.4 percent in 2014 to 13.6 percent last year. However, that pales in comparison to how much poverty has risen since 2000, and Illinois’ experience follows a national trend.

In 2000, the poverty rate in the U.S. began a slow increase that continued mostly uninterrupted through 2011. Part of that increase is attributable to the Great Recession which began in December 2007 and lasted until June 2009, but the increase started much earlier. From a low of 11.3 percent in 2000, the U.S. poverty rate increased to 15.9 percent in 2011 before slowly beginning to decline between 2012 and 2013. Last year, the U.S. poverty rate dropped to 14.7 percent from 15.5 percent in 2014.

Poverty rates in Illinois have consistently stayed about 1 percent lower than the national average, rising from 10 percent in 2000 to nearly 14.9 percent in 2011. Last year’s 0.8-percentage-point drop in Illinois represents about 100,000 people climbing above the federal poverty measure for income. Illinois was one of only eight states in which income inequality increased in 2015, according to the Census Bureau.

In Sangamon County, the poverty rate mostly followed the national and state trends, but in 2015 the county’s poverty rate increased to 16.4 percent from 15.3 the previous year. That’s even higher than the previous peak of 16 percent in 2011, and it represents an estimated 1,800 more people falling into poverty from 2014 to 2015.

Dan Lesser, director of Economic Justice for the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, says the 2015 state poverty decrease is encouraging, but he quickly adds, “It comes with lot of caveats.”

Lesser notes that there are still more than 1.7 million people in Illinois living in poverty, including one out of every five children. The poverty rate is still about two percentage points higher than its pre-recession level. Among Hispanic people, the poverty rate is more than twice as high as among non-Hispanic white people. The poverty rate among black people is nearly three times as high as among white people.

Lesser says Congress could have helped Illinois and the rest of the nation address poverty by closing the gender pay gap, increasing access to early childhood learning programs, requiring employers to offer paid sick leave and strengthening public aid like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Additionally, Lesser says the Illinois budget crisis will likely increase the state’s poverty level in the long term. He points to numerous social service programs that went underfunded or completely unfunded due to the lack of a state budget last fiscal year – services like screening for developmental delays among young children, after-school programs, job training, literacy programs, higher education grants and more.

“It has dismantled our infrastructure,” Lesser said, referring to social service providers which had to close or drastically scale back operations. He says that the damage done will be irreversible for many providers. “You can’t just turn the lights off and back on again.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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