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Number of Illinois Children Living in Poverty Increases to 660,000

A higher-than-expected number of Illinois children are living in poverty, underscoring the continuing pain of the recession and highlighting the urgent need for action to address child poverty in Illinois.

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in 2011, nearly 660,000 Illinois children lived in poverty, up from 600,000 in 2010 and 500,000 in 2000. As a result, the child poverty rate in Illinois jumped to 21.6 percent in 2011, up from 19.4 percent in 2010 and 15.4 percent in 2000.

Even more disturbing is that one out of four Illinois children under the age of 5 lives in poverty.

Growing up in poverty can have serious and long-lasting effects on children’s health, development, and overall well-being. The effects of poverty have a well-documented impact on young children’s developing brains. And children who grow up in poverty are more likely to experience harmful levels of stress, more likely to struggle in school, and more likely to have behavioral, social, and emotional problems than their peers.

The increasing child poverty figures for Illinois emphasize the need for greater investments in programs that alleviate child hunger, position children for academic and life success, and ensure that families can provide for children’s basic needs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “food stamps”), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit are a few examples of federal programs that can move children and families above the poverty level.

Unfortunately, many state-funded programs and services that help low-income kids and families have been hit by deep budget cuts and continue to be in jeopardy of further reductions in funding. Policymakers are expected to face more challenges next year to balance the state’s budget for FY 2014.

Good news about health insurance coverage for children

The Census data also revealed good news related to health insurance coverage, reflecting the enormous progress the state has made in expanding access to health care for children through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and All Kids expansion. In 2011, only 3.7 percent of Illinois children lacked health insurance coverage, compared with 7.5 percent nationwide. Only four states had lower uninsured rates for children.

Illinois has also substantially reduced racial-ethnic disparities in health insurance coverage. For example, in 2010-11, 5.6 percent of Latino children in Illinois were uninsured, compared with 13.5 percent nationwide.

Investments in health care programs are especially critical for children in low-income families and children with special health care needs.

You can help increase awareness of the need to alleviate child poverty in Illinois. Share the infographic on this page with family, friends, and listserves. In addition to circulating a link of this webpage (use the “share” buttons at the top of this page), you can “like” and “share” our Facebook post and re-tweet our infographic on Twitter. See our “What You Can Do” section for even more ways to get involved.

Make sure to sign up for our e-alerts to receive additional analyses of the American Community Survey and what the data reveal about children and families in Illinois.

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