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.
  • Measuring Poverty This section explains the way the U.S. Census Bureau measures poverty.

Individual Poverty Rates

Illinois Poverty1Data filtered and analyzed by the Social IMPACT Research Center, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

2015 Poverty Rate in Illinois: 13.6%

2014 Poverty Rate in Illinois: 14.4%

This means 1,703,258 Illinoisans were living at or below the poverty threshold in 2015.

For more from the 2015 Census data on poverty, check out this factsheet from Social IMPACT. The Social IMPACT Research Center also provides in-depth analysis of poverty in Illinois on its Illinois Poverty Report website. There, you can find county data, and full reports, such as:

Chicago Poverty2Data filtered and analyzed by the Social IMPACT Research Center, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

2015 Poverty Rate in Chicago: 20.9%

2014 Poverty Rate in Chicago: 22.0%

This means 556,134 Chicagoans were living at or below the poverty threshold in 2015.

Chicago Community Area Poverty3Data filtered and analyzed by the Social IMPACT Research Center, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year estimates.

The SociaCommunityAreaIndicators2015l 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).4Information based on Social IMPACT’s analysis of the 2008-2012 5-year estimate from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Illinois City Poverty5Data from 2015-2016 1-year estimate of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, available from the American FactFinder.

2015 Poverty Rates in…
Aurora: 14.6%
Decatur: 25.0%
East St. Louis: 45.4%
Kankakee: 32.3%
Peoria: 19.6%
Rockford: 22.4%
Springfield: 21.1%


Further Poverty Data

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.6For 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).7Based 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 here (the 2015 dataset used on the WIRE is still forthcoming).

Figures:8Data from the 2015 Working Poor Families Project data. The data come from 2013 US Census.

In Illinois…
52.9% of poor families are working:9Working Poor Families Project, 2015, Chapter 1, Table 1.A.1b.
73.2% of low-income families are working:10Working Poor Families Project, 2015, Chapter 1, Table 1.A.1a
10.2% of working families are poor.11Working Poor Families Project, 2015, Chapter 1, Table 1.A.2b.
30.0% of working families are low-income.12Working Poor Families Project, 2015, Chapter 1, Table 1.A.2a.
83.9% of working poor families spend over one third of household income on housing.13Working Poor Families Project, 2015, Chapter 1, Table 1.A.4b.
In 52.7% of working poor families, no parent has a post-secondary education.14Working Poor Families Project, 2015, Chapter 1, Table 1.A.7b.

There are 33,615 families with heads of household ages 18 to 24. Of those families, 37.0% are poor.15Working Poor Families Project, 2015, Supplement, Table S.7b.


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.

Measuring Poverty

Poverty Thresholds

The above estimates of poverty are made by the U.S. Census Bureau. They determine poverty status using thresholds, which are determined by estimating family needs, and how much those cost. 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. They do not vary geographically.

A few examples of poverty thresholds for 2015 are as follows:16Here is the full chart of poverty thresholds for 2015, as well as historic poverty threshold charts.

Size and Description of Family Unit Poverty Threshold
One Person $12,082
Two People (None are kids) $15,871
Three People (One is a kid) $19,078
Four People (Two are kids) $24,036

Poverty Guidelines

Poverty guidelines are more often used for determining financial eligibility for federal programs. 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 2015 are as follows:17Here is the full chart of poverty guidelines for 2015, as well as historic poverty guidelines.

Family Size Poverty Guidelines
One $11,770
Two $15,930
Three $20,090
Four $24,250

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: 2014 Report.

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