New Census data shows persistence of poverty in Chicago


Photo by Max Herman

It would be easy to look at the new Census data, released Thursday, and get lost in all the numbers. But each of those numbers represents a real person.

More than one in five Chicagoans (22 percent) lived below the poverty line in 2014, according to the data, collected from the American Community Survey. That is statistically unchanged from 2013.

In the black community, that number jumps to one in three (33 percent). Just over 10 percent of white Chicagoans are living in poverty and just under 24 percent of Latinos.

The federal poverty line is defined as $24,008 for a family with two adults and two children. The official national poverty rate comes from the Census’ Current Population Survey, released Wednesday, while the Chicago numbers come from the ACS.

African Americans are three times as likely as whites to be in deep poverty—below 50 percent of the federal poverty line. Roughly 18 percent of black Chicagoans live in deep poverty, compared with just 6 percent of white residents, according to the 2014 data. Those figures also didn’t budge from 2013.

One in three children in Chicago under the age of 18 live in poverty, according to the Census. That’s roughly 200,000 children.

Chicago’s overall poverty rate is almost 50 percent higher than the official national poverty rate, which was 14.8 percent in 2014.

There is some good news in the new Census data. The number of Chicagoans with health insurance rose, just as it did for Americans as a whole. About 86 percent of people in Chicago had health insurance in 2014, up from 80 percent in 2013.

In addition, the percentage of Chicagoans between the ages of 18 and 24 with at least a bachelor’s degree ticked up slightly, from 15.4 percent in 2013 to 17.6 percent in 2014.

That’s important because a college degree still makes a person much less likely to be poor and much more likely to have health insurance.

Even there, though, racial inequalities persist. Just under half of all white Chicagoans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with fewer than one in five black Chicagoans.