Illinois Poverty Report: Racism’s Toll

Every February, during Black History Month, we celebrate the civil rights victories of African Americans – successful efforts to combat injustice and racism. However, despite these important victories, our communities continue to feel the daily impact of racial inequity. Our long history of racist public policies and institutional practices have left people of color in Illinois with limited resources to build financial security for themselves and their families.

The Social IMPACT Research Center at Heartland Alliance unpacked these policies and practices in their Annual Poverty Report – Racism’s Toll: Report on Illinois Poverty. The report finds that poverty rates are 2 to 3 times higher for Illinoisans of color. In fact, people of color fare far worse on nearly every measure of well-being:

  • Child Poverty: Black children in Illinois are nearly 4 times more likely to live below the poverty line than white children.
  • Quality Education: The Illinois school districts with the most students of color receive 16% less in funding per student than districts serving the fewest students of color.
  • Unemployment: Unemployment rates are far higher for black Illinois workers than whites at every educational level.
  • Healthcare: Illinoisans of color are 2 to 3 times more likely to not have health insurance.
  • Life Expectancy: Black Illinoisans on average live 6 years less than whites.
  • Environment: Poor black (16%) and Latino (22%) Illinoisans are more likely to live within a mile of a hazardous chemical facility than poor whites (13%).

We also see great disparities in financial security and wealth. As the report highlights, people of color in Illinois have consistently been denied opportunities to build wealth over their lifetime and across generations.

African American and Latino Illinoisans, across age and gender, disproportionately live in poverty:

IL pov by race gender ethnicity age

More than 40% of all households of color lack the necessary savings to weather even a small financial emergency:

Nationally, the racial wealth gap is so large that we need to advocate for big policy changes that enable people of color to save and build intergenerational wealth:


It is beyond time we addressed racism in our communities, public policies, and public institutions. The Poverty Report offers a number of important ways individuals, faith communities, businesses, and government can play a leading role in moving us toward greater equity. It also includes two IABG policy recommendations:

  1. Begin to unravel barriers to financial security that have impacted communities of color for generations by expanding access to banking and lending opportunities that help build wealth in communities of color.
  2. Create universal, progressive, children’s savings accounts so every child has a tool to become financially capable, save for the future, and build a foundation for future mobility.

In 2016, we hope you’ll join us as we¬†advocate for policies that close the racial wealth gap and stop the stripping of wealth from communities of color by predatory lenders and other abusive financial practices.

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