The Geography of Child Poverty in Illinois

A new study breaks down child poverty by county in Illinois: following national trends, the highest rates are found in far downstate Illinois, where Alexander County’s rate doubles that of Cook County.

Again via Dylan Matthews (he finds great stuff), the Annie E. Casey Foundation just released its 2012 report on child well-being in America. Across a range of factors—poverty, health, education, parents’ employment, and so forth—Illinois is in the middle of the pack, at 21st. And there’s a depressingly distinctive geography to the rankings, one visible in the state of Illinois. On the left is the percentage of children below the poverty line in the state; on the right, the overall well-being rankings:

illinois child welfare

The lowest-ranked states are all Sunbelt and Deep South states—the only exception is Georgia, which is 37th, and out of the lowest tier by one place. North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee are 34th through 36th. There’s a similar geography at work in Illinois, with the highest child poverty concentrated in the farthest reaches of downstate. The highest level of child poverty in Illinois is in Alexander County, the southwestern most county in the state. At 44.8 percent, it’s the only Illinois county above 40 percent, and exactly double Cook County’s rate.

Alexander is where Tamms, and its prison, are located. The median family income in Tamms is $28,214, one reason why downstate reps have objected to closing the facility:

The potential loss of the prison in the 700-resident town would sting across the region. Calling the closure “a profound and staggering loss,” the five-county Southern Five Regional Planning District and Development Commission forecast that eliminating the prison’s 250 jobs ultimately would cost more than 200 indirect ones. The region’s gross domestic product would be reduced by $55 million, the commission said.

This shouldn’t be surprising; child poverty correlates with both the South and rural areas, though the highest child poverty rates in Illinois are found in urban public schools.

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