ACS Poverty Data Shows Increase in Household Income, Decrease in Poverty

ACSEarlier this month, the US Census Bureau released the collected data from their American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS results present yearly data on poverty & wage earnings in the United States, as well as localized information for cities and metro areas.

This year, the ACS data reports that for 2015, across the board, household incomes increased and poverty decreased—the most promising report since the Great Recession of 2008. Unfortunately, the poverty level has yet to drop to pre-recession levels, and 1.7 million Illinoisans still live in poverty.

Although household incomes are up, wages have remained relatively steady—thus, the increase in household incomes should be attributed to an increase in hours worked, not an increase in wages paid. Theoretically, this increase is still a positive outcome: if individuals are working more hours on average, then they are making more money. That being said, many people still struggle to make ends meet with a fifty- or sixty-hour work week. In future years, wage gains will need to increase in order to precipitate further increases in household income.

While this year’s report was generally positive, further analysis of the data reminds that a lot of work remains to be done. For instance, while progress has happened for every racial group, progress is not happening at the same rate—when comparing household incomes by the race of the head of the household, on average, black households earn approximately $25,000 fewer annually than white households. Additionally, on average, women are still only making 80% of their male counterparts—which is not a significant increase from recent years. Furthermore, the vast majority of recent economic gains have been centralized in urban and metropolitan areas, leaving rural areas behind.

The Illinois- and Chicago-specific data maps fairly well onto the US data—with a few important caveats. While there were “gains at the bottom of the income scale, Illinois was one of eight states where there was an increase in income inequality, or the gap between rich and poor.” There are still millions of Illinoisans affected by poverty and inadequate wages, thousands of whom live in Chicago.

Given the persistence of poverty in Illinois and Chicago—even in the midst of economic growth and recovery—we must protect proven anti-poverty efforts, invest in services to the most vulnerable, and keep the pressure on our elected officials to end poverty.  To that end, you can join CJC by:

  • Protecting SNAP benefits for unemployed adults—Use this form or call the Governor’s Office at (217)-782-0244 to ask the Governor to continue providing SNAP benefits for Illinois’ most vulnerable residents. Read more about SNAP funding here or join us at CJC’s next Workforce Development Working Group for more information.
  • Joining the #OneInAMillionIL campaign and keep the pressure on the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Rauner to complete their jobs and pass a responsible budget. Click here for more information.
  • Asking candidates what they are going to do about poverty if they are elected and read this piece from John Bouman of the Shriver Center.
  • Joining us and other advocates from across the country at Heartland Alliance’s A Nation That Works Conference here in Chicago.

For reports about poverty in Chicago in past years, read more from the Social Impact Research Center.

For a helpful breakdown of the ACS data from the Wall Street Journal, click here.

For an article on Chicago-specific data from the Tribune, click here.

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