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Child Poverty Improved In Illinois Before COVID-19 — But Gaps Remain

poverty chart

A child poverty report released Monday shows major improvement in the last decade, but for kids in many rural pockets of the state, progress was less significant. That was not only true about geography, but also differences between racial and ethnic groups, according to the nonprofit Voices for Voices for Illinois Children’s 2021 Kids Count report

In 2010, more than a fifth of the state’s children lived in poverty. By 2019, that share dropped to 16 percent.

However, several rural counties saw child poverty rates hover above 30 percent. In Alexander County, in far southern Illinois, more than half of the children were considered impoverished during a 2014-2018 period, and there was little change from the first part of the decade.

Dr. Bill Byrnes manages the Kid Count project for Voices, which analyzes state-level information from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count.

“The trick there is trying to figure out how we get resources and services to the people who need them the most particularly in a more rural context because those are areas that have historically been underserved,’’ he said, in terms of access to benefits and service.

Poverty rates by county in years between 2014 2018 ranged from a low of 6.3 percent to a high 52 percent in Alexander County.

Meanwhile, the overall child poverty rate dropped significantly over the past decade but a gap between the economic well-being between some demographic groups has not.

“We've seen some pretty encouraging decreases in the child poverty rate, both overall and when we disaggregate data by race, ethnicity,” he said. “The problem is that even though we've seen decreases those disparities remain persistent. And they've stayed with us throughout, that entire decade long period.”

He said that there has been little charge in the gap since 2011 … when the child poverty rate went about as high as 45 percent for black children and 30 percent for Latinx children … but the rates for Asian and white children fell at about 10 percent.

“Poverty can impact children’s long-term health, ability to learn and even future earnings. Children living in poverty frequently live in neighborhoods with higher rates of violence, which is not only a short-term safety problem, but also has long-term effects on mental health,’’ according to the report.

Improvement in poverty rates is expected to be reversed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Byrnes said.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and covering the equity beat. Maureen joined the Illinois Issues in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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