Skills and Education

This page contains information about skills and education in Illinois, and is divided into the following categories:

Skills Gap

How are skills defined?

Skill is most commonly measured through education.1“The Low Skilled Labor Market” Department of Labor The term “low skill” tends to apply to those with less than a high school education, “middle skill” to those who have more than a high school education and less than a college degree, and “high skill” for those with a college degree and more. Skill, however, is not only reflected by education–there are physical skills, soft skills, and emotional skills which contribute to meaningful employment.

The National Skills Coalition highlights the particular need for middle skills in their factsheet Illinois’ Forgotten Middle, one of their many state snapshots. Middle-skill jobs are those that require more than a High School education, but less than a four-year college degree.

Middle-skill jobs make up 53% of the Illinois labor market, but only 42% of the state’s workers are trained for middle-skill jobs.2National Skills Coalition: Illinois’ Forgotten Middle

The interactive, multi-media article Where the jobs are: The new blue collar by USA Today describes where some of those middle-skill jobs are, and the skills and training needed to fill them. Another great resource to learn about the availability of middle skill jobs across the nation is

Educational Attainment


Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE):

The Illinois Report Card site (the board’s interactive data clearinghouse) is an engaging, dynamic resource with information on student demographics, performance, school funding and much more. All visuals come with a helpful explanation of the data, along with context, and additional resources for research.  Among the vast amount of information are data about:

12-13 IL dropout by grade_race_genderISBE also maintains a Report Card page and Topics page, containing numerous sources of information about graduation rates and performance in Illinois public schools. Following are select resources from the site:

  • The 2017 Illinois State Report Card is an overview of state performance and graduation rates.
  • The 2016 Annual Report contains detailed figures on students and student performance. Dropout rates by grade, gender, and race (displayed in the image to the right) are available from the “Students” profile.
  • The  Annual Statistical Report is a 290 page document which details finances and county and district level enrollment information. It is not a source for performance data beyond dropouts and attendance.3ISBE also maintains records of historical statistical reports from 2004 to the present.

Working Poor Families Project:

The Working Poor Families Project collects data on educational attainment in all 50 states. Their full yearly data release contains indicators related to education, income, employment, and other topics as well. Here are some highlights from their data on education and skills status of adults.4Source: Working Poor Families Project, 2017, Chapter 2. See more about this information on our Poverty page.   

Hispanics are by far the largest population in Illinois without a high school degree at 30.7%, over 20 percentage points higher than the average.

The Hispanic and Black population are virtually tied for highest populations with only a high school degree in Illinois.
The Black population is the largest in Illinoisans with some post-secondary education, almost 7 percentage points higher than the average.

Whites are the largest population with an Associates Degree and above, 6.7 percentage points higher than the average. 

Chicago Community Areas:

The City of Chicago’s Data Portal lists percent of adults 25 and above without a High School Diploma by neighborhood. 5Unfortunately, this data has not been updated since September 2014 This table provides multiple pieces of information about Chicago neighborhoods–scroll to the right for education information.
The Social IMPACT Research Center provides more detailed education data for adults 25 and older by Chicago neighborhood in its Chicago Community Area Indicators report.6Pages 11 and 12 A few highlights from the data:

  • In South Lawndale (a majority Latino community),  46.2% of adults 25 and older have less than a high school diploma or equivalent. (2015)
  • In Gage Park (also majority Latino), 39.1% of adults 25 and over have less than a high school diploma or equivalent. (2015)
  • In Chicago on average, 15.9% of adults 25 and over have less than a high school diploma or equivalent. (2015)

National Data

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides detailed data about national student demographics and performance, for updated information on 2017 educational statistics, visit their website here. 7See their Condition of Education portal for more.

Literacy and English Proficiency

For many in Illinois and the United States more broadly, low English language skills remain a barrier to employment. Here are a few figures, as well as further sources of data on literacy, indicators of literacy, and English proficiency.

In Illinois, 32.3% of working poor families have at least one parent that has trouble with English.8Working Poor Families data Chapter 1, Table 1.A.8b. Read more about the Working Poor Families data on our Poverty page.

To the extent that school performance in reading is an indicator of literacy, assessments of reading skills are informative. The Illinois Report Card contains reading proficiency statistics for Illinois students. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has data on reading proficiency nationally.

Compared to other states, English Language Learners in Illinois fall behind their Native English Speaker counterparts by much wider margins.9See Table: Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th- and 8th-graders in public schools and percentage scoring at or above selected reading achievement levels, by English language learner (ELL) status and state: 2013.

NCES also reports national literacy data, including measures of quantitative literacy.10Unfortunately, literacy is not a well-measured variable, and another in-depth analysis of this type has not be completed since 2003.

44% of Hispanic American adults and 24% of Black American adults have below basic literacy skills, compared to 7% of White American adults.11Specifically measured “prose literacy” using continuous text prose samples. Source: 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). See full data table for more.

Other information from NCES includes Home Literacy Activities statistics (examples of home literacy activities include reading to children or bringing them to a library), and the report Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among U.S. Adults.12See report page for more.


In November, 2014 Literacy Works, a Chicago organization dedicated to improving adult literacy, created the handbook Transitions to Education and Training. This resource is designed to help workforce professionals guide lower skilled adults to free and affordable education and training. Along with other helpful material, the handbook includes:

  • Suggestions for communicating with clients to effectively encourage further education.
  • Various program options for continuing education.
  • Strategies for identifying quality programs and avoiding scams.

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