Poverty can be measured and understood in different ways. This page presents official poverty measures for different areas in Illinois, as well as alternative ways of understanding poverty. The information is organized as follows:

  • Individual Poverty Rates These traditional poverty rates show the percentage of individuals in poverty.
  • Family Poverty These data paint a broader picture of life in poverty, with special emphasis on the family unit. This provides an alternative perspective to the standard poverty rate, which reveals only individuals in poverty.
  • Establishing Poverty This section is a review of how poverty is established by the U.S. Census Bureau. 
  • Measuring Poverty This section explains alternative ways of measuring poverty

Individual Poverty Rates

(Data filtered and analyzed by the Social IMPACT Research Center, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.)

Statewide Annual Poverty Rate

2017 Poverty Rate in Illinois: 13.0%
2016 Poverty Rate in Illinois: 13.0%
2015 Poverty Rate in Illinois: 13.6%

 Illinoisans were living at or below the poverty threshold in 2017.

For more resources on state and national poverty levels, you can visit these links below:

(Data filtered and analyzed by the Social IMPACT Research Center, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.)

2016 Poverty Rate in Chicago: 19.1%
2015 Poverty Rate in Chicago: 20.9%
2014 Poverty Rate in Chicago: 22.0%

(Data filtered and analyzed by the Social IMPACT Research Center,from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year estimates.)


The Social IMPACT Research Center reports individual poverty rates for Chicago neighborhoods in its report Chicago Community Area Indicators. Also in the report are estimates of Chicagoans living in extreme poverty (50% of Federal Poverty Threshold or below) and low-income conditions (200% of FPL threshold or below).(Information based on Social IMPACT’s analysis of the 2008-2012 5-year estimate from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.)

(Data from 2015-2016 1-year estimate of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, available from the American FactFinder.)

2017 Poverty Rates in…
Aurora: 14.0%
Decatur: 25.1%
East St. Louis: 44.7%
Kankakee: 32.7%
Peoria: 21.7%
Rockford: 22.7%
Springfield: 19.7%

NYT poverty map

Credit: New York Times

To obtain data for shorter time frames (such as one-year estimates) visit the American Community Survey FactFinder. The FactFinder is a resource of the U.S. Census Bureau, providing demographic, economic, social, housing and other pertinent information for over 7,000 different geographic areas nationwide.(For more information about the FactFinder, as well as instructions for using it, read the WIRE’s Guide to the FactFinder.)

In January 2014, the New York Times released the map to the left–a detailed map of poverty rates across the United States. The map shows poverty by county and by census tract (the smallest geographic area used by the Census Bureau).(Based on 2012 US Census data.)

Family Poverty

Working Poor Families Project

Every year, the Working Poor- Families Project analyzes U.S. Census data to collect key indicators about working poor and low-income families in every state. Following are select figures from this dataset, which can be found in its entirety.


The Working Poor Families Project defines terms and explains source data extensively in its Framework of Indicators.
Family: Primary married couple or single parent family with at least one child under age 18.
Working Family: A family where all family members age 15 and over have a combined work effort of 39 or more weeks in the last 12 months or all family members age 15 and over have a combined work effort of 26 or more weeks in the last 12 months and one currently unemployed parent looked for work in the previous four weeks. The federal government defines family income as based on all family members age 15 and over. Poor families are those that fall below 100% of the poverty threshold set by the Census Bureau.
Family in Poverty (Poor Family): A family with an income below the threshold for poverty as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Low-Income Family: A family whose income is below 200% of the poverty threshold.

Chicago Household Poverty

The City of Chicago’s Data Portal provides household poverty rates by neighborhood, in contrast to the individual poverty rates filtered by the Social IMPACT research center, provided above on this page.

a living wage looks like, look at our self-sufficiency standard.

Self-Sufficiency Standard

What is the Self-Sufficiency Standard? 

The self-sufficiency standard is a budget-based measure that defines the amount of income necessary to meet basic needs without public or private assistance. 1 The self-sufficiency standard is calculated for a variety of different family types and takes into consideration regional differences as well as annual variation. The self sufficiency standard varies significantly from the Official Poverty Measure by considering all major budget items that working adults are responsible for–not just food. 2 There is general consensus among economists that the poverty threshold is both outdated and does not accurately capture costs for every family or individual. 3 For a deeper dive into the self-sufficiency standard and its metrics, visit this link.

A great resource for understanding more about what self sufficiency means is the MIT Living Wage Calculator. The calculator  demonstrates the gap that exists between the minimum wage and the wages that working people would need to support themselves, their families, and their futures. The model created by MIT is a market-based approach that takes into account costs of services and products varying by geographical location.

Here is some specific information from the MIT Calculator for Illinois, Chicago, and Peoria.

In 2017, a living wage for one adult is:

    • In Illinois $11.72 an hour (minimum wage: $8.25 an hour).
    • In Cook County $12.56 an hour (minimum wage: $8.25 an hour).
    • In Peoria $10.02 an hour (minimum wage: $8.25 an hour).

In 2017, a living wage for one adult and two children is:

      • In Illinois $30.75 an hour.
      • In Cook County $31.73 an hour.
      • In Peoria $28.93 an hour.

Disaggregated Wage Data

As noted above, the key to workers’ self sufficiency is through livable wages. However, wages vary drastically between races and genders, putting certain populations further away from self-sufficiency than others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly wage between White, African American, Asian, and Latino workers varies significantly. The difference between the median Asian wage and Latino wage per week is almost 450 dollars, and African American and Latino workers earn far less than both White and Asian workers.

Women’s wages disaggregated by race are consistently lower than the total median wages calculated in the above graph. Compared to total workers, White women make almost $100 less than the total white median wage, and Asian women almost $150 less than the total Asian median wage.

Establishing Poverty

Poverty is estimated through both the poverty guidelines and poverty thresholds sourced from the federal government. Poverty thresholds are used to define and quantify poverty in America each year, while poverty guidelines are simplified measures used for administrative purposes by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The estimates below are made by the U.S. Census Bureau. These estimates determine poverty status using thresholds, which are determined by estimating the cost of family needs. The annual income of the family is then compared to these thresholds. The thresholds vary based on family size, number of children, and age of householder and are updated annually. Thresholds do not vary geographically.

A few examples of poverty thresholds for 2017 are as follows:10

Size and Description of Family Unit Poverty Threshold
One Person $12,752
Two People (None are kids) $16,414
Three People (One is a kid) $19,730
Four People (Two are kids) $24,858

Poverty guidelines are more often used for administrative purposes, such as determining financial eligibility for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Though often confused with thresholds, they are slightly different measures.  They are issued each year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The poverty guidelines for 2018 are as follows:11

Family Size Poverty Guidelines
One $12,140
Two $16,460
Three $20,780
Four $25,100

For more on measuring poverty, see the US Census Bureau’s main Poverty Page, or check out the Income and Poverty In the United States: 2016 Report.

What does the poverty rate miss? The poverty rate doesn’t necessarily capture what it means to be able to fulfill basic needs in different areas across the country, nor make meaningful investments in education, retirement, or healthcare.

Measuring Poverty

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM)

All the data you’ve seen on this page is based off of one measure: the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) used by the federal government. This measure is the same for all states, counties, and cities in the United States (even if poverty looks very different in different places). The Official Poverty Measure is comparatively narrow next to the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM); take a look for yourself clicking the link below:

The key elements of the SPM are measuring cash income, benefit programs, tax credits, and expenditures on basic needs. The SPM takes into account how anti-poverty programs reduce poverty, which the OPM does not. The SPM is also much more current than the OPM: OPM’s measurement of the poverty threshold is partially based on food costs from 1963!

According to the Center for American Progress, the current poverty measure accounts for 1/7th of the average family’s expenses.

Disaggregating data for measurements of the SPM helps show how different policy choices, such as CHIP or Social Security, can shape poverty. Also, given different costs and employability for different populations, the poverty measure will vary. See the graph below for more information.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau “The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2016”

The National Academy of Science Measure

In the 1990s, the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the poverty measure be a threshold to afford basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter counting cash and noncash resources and varying by location. With the NAS measure, poverty thresholds and rates are higher than the current Federal measurement nationwide, with a decrease in extreme poverty.

Disaggregated Poverty Data