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2017 Kids Count Report: Illinois Investments Matter

Written by Anna Rowan

Data from the beginning of the state’s budget crisis show that smart investments in children lead to progress. Illinois is currently 19th in the nation in the latest rankings for child well-being, according to the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Yet, the lack of a full state budget for the past two years (and no foreseeable end to the impasse) puts Illinois in danger of undermining its own investments and progress.


Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation

The 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book uses 16 indicators to rank each state across four domains — health, education, economic well-being, and family and community — that represent what children need most to thrive. Illinois ranks:

  • 10th in health. Illinois has been a national leader in providing children with access to health insurance. From 2010 to 2015, Illinois cut the uninsured rates for African-American and Latino children in half, from 6 percent to 3 percent, for both groups.
  • 13th in education. Early childhood education has been a bright spot for Illinois. Less than half of 3- and 4-year olds do not attend school, ranking the state fifth in this indicator. However, the state still has significant work to do to close the achievement and attainment gaps that exist between low-income and minority students from their white and more affluent peers.
  • 25th in economic well-being. Illinois families continue to struggle with economic security. Although more kids’ parents are now working full-time, year-round jobs than in 2010, the percentage of children living in poverty has not changed when comparing the height of the Great Recession in 2010 to 2015 data.
  • 28th in the family and community domain. Illinois has made great strides in reducing the teen birth rate. There were more than 6,000 fewer teen births in 2015 than in 2010. But there are still far too many children living in high-poverty areas and in single-parent families.

The data show that key investments in health and early education have reduced racial disparities among children. Although Latino children still lag behind in preschool attendance, there is little difference between the percentage of African-American and white children who aren’t attending preschool. Additionally, all groups of kids are accessing health insurance at roughly the same rate. However, there is still work to do to lessen other disparities. For example, more than two-thirds of the half a million Illinois children living in poverty are children of color. If Illinois elected officials fail to enact a budget for a third year, we run the very real risk of causing disparities to grow and wiping out the progress we’ve made.

The 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book with state-by-state rankings and supplemental data can be viewed at http://www.aecf.org/resources/2017-kids-count-data-book/.


Paid Sick Leave Benefits Children’s Health

This month, the Illinois Senate has the opportunity to pass legislation to protect children’s health by providing Illinois workers with paid sick days.

The Healthy Workplace Act (HB 2771) would allow an employee to accrue and use up to five paid sick days per year. Employees may use their paid sick days to care for themselves or a family member. It is an important measure when it comes to children’s health.

Receiving care from their parents is important for children’s mental as well as physical health. Parents have been shown to play important roles in the care of children with chronic and acute conditions such as epilepsy, asthma and diabetes.

Many studies have also shown that a parent’s presence helps with their children’s recovery. When parents are involved in children’s care, children recover more rapidly from outpatient procedures and the duration of hospital stays is reduced by 31%. When parental involvement in the care of sick children is increased, children’s anxiety decreases. On the other hand, separating young children from their parents when they are sick has been shown to have detrimental effects.

While parental involvement is key to the health of children, many parents are forced to decide whether to leave a sick child home alone, send a sick child to school, or stay home with their child and risk losing pay or getting fired because they have no access to paid sick leave. In one study, 58% of working parents continued to go to work when their children were sick. Of the parents who were able to stay home with their children when they were sick, more than half reported that the reason they could stay at home was that they received some type of paid leave. In a separate study conducted in Chicago and Los Angeles, 41% of parents with children with special needs stated that at least once in the past year they went to work even though they felt they should have taken time off to take care of their sick child.

Paid sick leave is important for all working parents but is essential for low-income working mothers, who are primarily responsible for their children’s health. More than half of low-income mothers must take time off when their children are sick compared to a third of higher income mothers. While 71% of higher income mothers have paid sick leave, only 31% of low-income mothers have the same type of support. Among the mothers who do not have other child care options and must miss work when their children are sick, 60% are not paid for that time off.

paid sick leave


Lack of paid sick leave compromises the health of all Illinois children. Parents without paid sick days are more than twice as likely as parents with paid sick days to send a sick child to school or day care putting at risk the health of their children and that of other children. On the other hand, parents who have paid sick or vacation leave are more than five times as likely to care for their sick children compared to those without leave shortening the time children are sick and protecting the health of other children.

Helping to ensure parents have the time and the financial resources to take care of their children, paid sick leave safeguards the health of children in Illinois.

Written by Militza M. Pagán
Consultant to Voices for Illinois Children

Benefits of Doubling Illinois’ Earned Income Tax Credit

Voices for Illinois Children’s President Tasha Green Cruzat recently testified before the Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee on the importance of increasing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

The federal EITC is one of the most effective poverty fighting measures. A federal tax credit for low- and moderate-income working people, the EITC allows an individual to take a percentage of earned income as a credit against his or her tax liability. If the amount of the credit (based on income, marital status, and number of children) exceeds the individual’s tax liability, the federal government refunds the balance to the taxpayer. In 2015, the federal EITC kept 6.5 million people out of poverty. More than half of them were children.

federal EITCTwenty-six states and the District of Columbia have enacted state EITCs. In Illinois, a taxpayer receiving the federal EITC may take 10% of that amount on his or her state income tax return. The credit is also refundable in Illinois. In Tax Year 2014, more than 900,000 Illinois taxpayers took advantage of the state EITC for an average of $245. HB 2475 would increase the state’s EITC from 10% of the federal EITC to 20% over five years. Given projected increases in the federal EITC, the bill could result in an additional $265 annually (after five years) for taxpayers claiming the Illinois credit. That’s additional money used for basic necessities:  buying groceries, paying for car repairs, or helping to pay for child care.

State EITC

A study of state EITC’s done by the University of New Hampshire[1] found they resulted in lower use of public health insurance and greater use of private health insurance for children. It also showed that mothers reported improvements in their children’s health (particularly for children ages 11 to 14).

Other studies show children in families receiving the EITC score higher on educational tests and are likelier to graduate from high school[2].

The state EITC is a good investment for Illinois citizens as well as communities around the state. A review of economic studies by the U.S. Conference of Mayors shows that for every EITC dollar increase received by low and moderate income families, there’s an economic multiplier in the money generated in local economies of 1.5 to 2[3].

  • In a study of EITC benefits received by Michigan residents in 2006, every EITC dollar spent generated $1.67 in new economic output in the state[4].
  • A 2010 study of 58 California counties showed $3.6 billion in federal EITC dollars spent locally generated $5.08 billion of economic output, $1.24 billion in labor income and $355 million in tax revenue[5].
  • A 2004 study of the impact of the federal EITC in San Antonio area showed every EITC dollar received resulted in a local economic impact of $1.58[6].

The actual dollars returned to a community may depend on how many taxpayers claim the credit in each year, the amount of the credits, and the retail market in a community. However, the evidence is clear that investing in the EITC produces economic activity in the taxpayer’s community and tax dollars for both the state and local governments.

Overall, the EITC is a proven winner. It helps lift families out of poverty, improves the health and educational outcomes of family members, and positively impacts local communities.  Voices strongly encourages the state to double its EITC.

Written by Mitch Lifson

[1] Baughman, Reagan. 2012. The Effects of State EITC Expansion on Children’s Health. Carsey Institute. University of New Hampshire

[2] Caines, Roxy. 2017. 5 Ways the EITC Benefits Families, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

[3] U.S. Conference of Mayors. Dollar Wi$e Best Practices. 2ND Edition. Earned Income Tax Credit.

[4] Anderson Economic Group, LLC. 2006. Economic Benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit in Michigan.

[5] Avalos, A., and Alley, S. 2010. The economic impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in California. California Journal of Politics and Policy.

[6]Texas Perspectives Inc. 2004. Increased Participation in the Earned Income Tax Credit in San Antonio


Illinois Must End the Budget Crisis and Target Investments for Low-income Parents of Color and their Children

With only three scheduled veto session days remaining and money from the state’s “stopgap” budget set to run out at the end of December, Illinois lawmakers need to act urgently to restore critical programs that strengthen young parents and their children. This week, Voices for Illinois Children released a new report highlighting the damage the ongoing budget crisis is having on the economic security of Illinois’ children and families and makes recommendations to raise the necessary revenue to balance the budget and fully restore programs that help communities thrive.

The first five years of life are the most important period of growth for a child, but persistent poverty can harm young children and set back their likelihood of success in school and in their adult life. With one in 10 Illinois children under six living in deep poverty (50 percent of the poverty level, or roughly $12,125 for a family of four) and four in ten living below twice the poverty rate ($48,500 for a family of four), the urgency of investing in programs that counter the negative effects of poverty are paramount.

The current “stopgap” budget fails to provide adequate funding for many important programs that support young parents to pursue their education and provide their children with high-quality childcare and programs that support their well-being. As a result, several programs, including the Monetary Award Program which provides grants for low-income college students, Adult Basic Education and Literacy programs, and home visiting programs that support child well-being will not have any funding available at the start of 2017.

To fully support young parents in Illinois and create opportunities for their children and families, Illinois must:

• Restore eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program to 185 percent of the poverty level and to parents pursuing a college degree full time.
• Restore state investments in higher education and MAP grants.
• Target funding to areas that improve educational outcomes for low-income parents of color.
• Restore Safe from the Start funding and increase investments in children’s mental health.

Communities of Color Continue to Struggle in Illinois

Last week’s new Census data show that in Illinois and across the country, income and health insurance coverage increased while poverty went down between 2014 and 2015. Although this is positive news overall, Illinois’ poverty rates remain higher and incomes lower than before the Great Recession, and African Americans and Latinos continue to have lower incomes and have a harder time making ends meet than whites.

The success of Illinois depends on our state’s commitment to create jobs that pay workers enough to make ends meet, provide quality childcare for young children so parents can work, and the ability for all Illinoisans to afford to see a doctor and stay healthy—all of these things build economic security and thriving communities.

Below are key highlights of the report that show that although there’s much to celebrate in terms of increasing incomes and declining poverty, we must do more to address the continuing gaps for people of color in Illinois.

Highlights from the 2015 American Community Survey data release include:

  • The Illinois poverty rate was 13.6 percent in 2015 down from 14.4 percent in 2014. The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2015 was less than $24,250.
  • Even with slight improvements in the rate, there were more than 7 million Illinoisans living in poverty, an increase of more than 207,000 people in poverty since 2007.
  • Median household income rose from $57,475 in 2014 to $59,588 in 2015, a 3.7 percent increase.
  • While the number and percentage of Illinoisans living in deep poverty—below 50 percent of the federal poverty level— dropped between 2014 and 2015, there were still more than 784,000 Illinoisans (6.2%) living under such dire circumstances. In 2015, a family of four living below 50 percent of the federal poverty level lived on an income of less than $12,125 in 2015.
  • Illinois was among eight states with an increase in income inequality – the gap between the rich and everyone else – between 2014 and 2015.

 Children Most Likely to be Poor

  • Nearly 559,000 children still lived in poverty in 2015 despite a slight improvement in the child poverty rate from 20.2 percent in 2014 to 19.1 percent in 2015.
  • Children of color have higher poverty rates compared to white children. African American children are four times more likely to be poor than white children (39.0% vs. 10.0%).
  • Latino children are nearly three times more likely to be poor compared to white children (27.2%).
  • More than 246,000 (8.4%) of Illinois children were living in deep poverty in 2015. Although this is down slightly from 9 percent in 2014, the rate and number of children living in deep poverty is higher than before the recession.

Slower Improvements in Poverty and Income for African American and Latino households

Although poverty went down and income went up in Illinois between 2014 and 2015, the gains were not as strong for people of color, including African Americans and Latinos. And household incomes for people of color in Illinois are still well below pre-recession levels. Overall, African American household income is half that of white household income.

  • Median Household Income: African American and Latino households continued to earn considerably less than white and Asian households. African American median household income was $33,950 in 2015. It was $49,122 for Latino households, $66,237 for white households, and $80,076 for Asian households. African American and Latino household income increases were much lower than the state average.
  • After adjusting for inflation, African American household incomes declined by $4,894 or 12.6 percent from 2007, while Latino household incomes declined by $5,015 or 9.3 percent. Overall, Illinois incomes were down $2,283 or 3.7 percent in 2015 compared to 2007, showing that African Americans and Latinos were disproportionately harmed by the Great Recession.
  • Race and Poverty: African Americans are three times more likely to be poor compared to whites, with a poverty rate of 28.2 percent compared to just 8.7 percent for whites. Latinos are more than twice as likely to be poor compared to whites. The Latino poverty rate was 19.4 percent.

Low Educational Attainment Closely Tied to Poverty

Educational attainment continues to be an important factor in whether a person is living in poverty. Illinoisans without out a high school degree were twice as likely (23.4%) to live in poverty compared to just 10.1 percent of Illinoisans’ with some college and 4.1 percent of college graduates.

One in Six Illinoisans Struggle with Low Incomes

Many Illinoisans living above the federal poverty level are still struggling. Economic security, defined as the ability to afford basic needs, save for a rainy day, and plan for the future, is out of reach for many Illinoisans. Estimates of what it takes to be financially secure are usually at least twice the poverty line or 200 percent of the federal poverty level—$23,540 annual income for one person or $48,500 for a family of four. In 2015, one in six (16.7%) Illinoisans made less than this.

The Dismantling of Illinois’ Child Care System


More media coverage on the devastating effects of Governor Rauner’s “emergency” rule that severely restricts access to the state’s Child Care Assistance Program. Under the rule, about 90 percent of low-income working parents who used to qualify now are ineligible. In fact, according to the Governor’s new rules, a parent working a full-time minimum wage now makes far too much to qualify for assistance. As a result, working parents are essentially ineligible for the assistance that enables them to work.

State Budget Crisis Shuts Down Federal WIC Program

Illinois’ budget crisis is about to claim another victim: low-income women and their children who rely on nutrition assistance from the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

Without a state budget, WIC funding from the federal government hasn’t been flowing to the Community Economic Development Association (CEDA). As a result, CEDA said it will have to close this week, suspending services to 50,000 women and children.

For more, watch the news segment from ABC-7.

Increasing Illinois’ EITC Would Reduce Income Inequality

To counteract growth in income inequality, Illinois should double the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. This is a key takeaway from new research done by Federal Reserve economists that found that state EITCs can “significantly increase the extent to which state tax systems reduce income inequality.”

The research found that the higher a state’s EITC, the more powerful the effect. For example, between 2003-2007, when Illinois’ EITC was 5% of the federal EITC, it decreased income inequality by 0.4% (measured by comparing the 10th and 90th percentiles of income). In contrast, the study showed that Maryland’s EITC, which was 20% of the federal EITC, reduced income inequality in Maryland by 2.2%. While these numbers may seem small, the study found that state EITCs can “meaningfully reduce income inequality.”

The research also notes that there is strong evidence that the EITC increases employment rates by rewarding work. Thus, increasing the EITC not only gives low- and moderate-income working families more of what they pay in taxes back, it also results in higher wage income.

Illinois’ EITC is currently 10% of the federal EITC. If Illinois were to double its EITC, more than 900,000 low- and moderate-income working families would see a boost to their income by an average of about $300 annually — an important boost for families trying to make ends meet. While the EITC will not undo the huge growth in income inequality over recent decades, it’s an important step in the right direction.

Illinois Budget Could Worsen or Help Reduce Child Poverty

Voices recently released its Illinois Kids Count 2015 report, which showed that child poverty rates in our state remain higher than pre-recession levels and are much higher than they were in 2000.


About one in five children in our state live below poverty level (which is about $18,750 for a family of three). That’s over 600,000 kids. As a result of growing up in poverty, these kids are at greater risk of experiencing health problems, delayed social-emotional development, and lower academic achievement, all of which can translate into poorer economic opportunities and outcomes in adulthood. Society pays too, in the form of more costly interventions throughout later life stages (e.g., special education), lost productivity, and lost tax revenues. 

A comprehensive set of policy strategies at both the federal and state level have been effective in alleviating and reducing child poverty. These policies include tax credits for low-income working families (like the Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC), food assistance (SNAP, formerly food stamps), health care and related services for low-income families, and investments in early childhood education.

In recent years, however, efforts to expand opportunities for Illinois’ most vulnerable residents have been repeatedly cut and now face new threats. Under Governor Rauner’s proposed FY 2016 budget, programs and services that provide health and disability care, support working families, and promote the healthy development of low-income children in our state are subject to devastating cuts and even elimination.

Our future well-being as a state depends on our willingness to expand opportunities to all children by investing in their healthy development. Now is the time to shore-up these investments, not to undermine them. Rather than cut millions of dollars for afterschool, child protection, early intervention, infant mortality prevention, and vaccines, we should be boosting the wages of low-income working families by doubling the state EITC, as recently proposed by Representative Currie and Senator Collins.

Budgets reflect priorities, and Governor Rauner’s proposed budget does not meet the needs of children in our state. Poverty won’t be alleviated by cutting the very supports that reduce it. It won’t be alleviated by wishing it away or through “trickling down” prosperity. It requires social and economic policies that help all children succeed.

To be clear — doing “nothing” in our current social and economic context is a not a neutral policy choice, but rather one that exacerbates poverty.

Watch the ABC 20 Chicago story below for more on child poverty, the devastating impact of Governor Rauner’s budget, and proposals to double the state EITC.

Homeless Service Cutbacks in Rauner Budget

By Jennifer Cushman & Jonathan Holmes
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Gov. Bruce Rauner’ state budget plan for FY16, released Feb. 18, proposes some life-threatening reductions in FY16 funding for safety-net homeless services and devastating decreases to health care and core services on which Illinois families depend. 

Gov. Rauner proposed cuts to critical homeless services that would impact an estimated 12,582 households, eroding an already insufficient safety net for families and children. Even at this year’s funding levels, emergency shelters will turn away more than 45,000 households due to lack of capacity.

With these cuts some of our state’s most vulnerable members, including more than 1,300 homeless youths, would lose life-saving shelter and services. 

“This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem,” says Flora Koppel, executive director of the South Side’s Unity Parenting and Counseling. Ms. Koppel also chairs the CCH Youth Committee, an advocacy group comprised of homeless 44 youth providers across Illinois.

Though specific spending cutbacks were not detailed in his budget address, Gov. Rauner’s plan includes:

  • Homeless Youth shelters and services: $2.5 million to be funded – a $3.1 million (55%) cutback that would end services for 1,326 homeless youth
  • Supportive Housing Services: $16.17 million funded – a $14.1 million (53%) cutback that would end services to 10,311 recently homeless households
  • Homeless Prevention grants to families: $3 million funded – a $1 million (25%) cutback in small, one-time grants for 955 at-risk households
  • Emergency Shelter & Transitional Housing: $9.4 million funded – unchanged from FY 2015

Slashing Medicaid

The governor also proposed slashing $1.5 billion from the state’s Medicaid program, with “aggressive” efforts to recertify which low-income people qualify for Medicaid-covered health care. 

Gov. Rauner’s budget also fails to restore $3 million for homeless school services. That conflicts with his often-stated intention to prioritize education funding.

The Illinois State Board of Education has recommended the $3 million for four years. The number of homeless students in Illinois public schools has increased 121% since 2009, when homeless school services were last funded by the state. Homeless school enrollment reached a record 59,112 last school year.

Cutting off help to state wards at age 18

The governor also proposes to end guardianship services to youth who are state wards when they reach the age of 18, instead of 21. Illinois spends an average of $48,328 to support these wards, with 2,067 state wards ages 18-21 as of June 2014, per an analysis by CCH and the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY).

“Cutting off older wards at age 18 will certainly lead to increased homelessness for youth unprepared for independent living. Add to that a slash in funds for homeless youth shelters and you get a one-two punch for some of our state’s most vulnerable teens,” said Policy Director Julie Dworkin.

Fifty-six percent, or 1,155, of these older wards lived within Chicago and suburban Cook County.

Cutting off state wards at age 18 is a cutback of $99.9 million. According to the governor’s budget plan, this would be combined with  “administrative efficiencies,” for a total cutback of $167.1 million.

Included among older state wards are 414 pregnant or parenting youth age 18 or older and their 376 young children, a group represented by CCH Senior Counsel Laurene Heybach.

Dropping state wards when they reach 18 would leave teens without support while some try to finish high school. As it is, the state’s child welfare system already leaves some youth to cope on their own: Chicago Public Schools identified 2,647 teenage students last school year who were unaccompanied, attending city schools while living without a parent or guardian. 

Gov. Rauner’s proposed reductions to Medicaid and basic human services would critically erode core services for families and children, creating new barriers to youth and families trying to escape poverty and homelessness. If implemented, these deep cutbacks are expected to trigger increased costs for emergency medical care, lost wages, homelessness and incarceration.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ Blog.