McLean County added nearly 5,000 people to the poverty rolls in one year. That's one of the reasons McLean is on Heartland Alliance's poverty watch list.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect McLean County had previously been pulled from the Heartland Alliance's poverty watch list in 2018. This story also updates the differing methods Heartland Alliance and McLean County Regional Planning Commission use in compling data.
McLean County's poverty rate has grown to 15.6%, higher than the state average and up 3 percentage points from 2016. The county's unemployment rate of 4.2% and teen birth rate of 118.5 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19 are on the rise based on 2017 data, the most recent data available.
McLean County has 25,273 residents living in poverty, according to the 2017 data.
Katie Buitrago, the alliance's research director, said many social service agencies across the state are still recovering from years of budget uncertainty.
“Human services providers have had to lay off staff or close their doors or take out lots of credit to stay afloat,” Buitrago said. “The level we are investing now just doesn’t do enough to repair those damages.”
McLean County did see a 5% increase in its median household income to about $68,900, and the county’s rate of food insecurity dropped slightly from 12.4 to 12.1%. It’s food insecurity rate for children also dropped to 14.1%, down from 16.8.
Peoria and Ford are among 14 counties named to Heartland Alliance’s poverty warning list (a more serious red flag). The rest of the warning counties are in southern Illinois.
Illinois saw its number of watch and warning counties increase from 52 to 67 in one year.
Buitrago calls for more funding for programs that address poverty. Heartland is backing the progressive tax that voters will consider next year.
“We are just not doing enough, even after the budget crisis is over, to invest in fixing the massive holes that it left behind in our infrastructure that moves people out of poverty,” she said.
Buitrago added that people of color still bear the brunt of Illinois’ fiscal troubles, as that population faces higher poverty and unemployment rates and lower high school graduation health insurance rates.
“That’s due to hundreds of years of institutionalization of giving opportunities to white Americans and raising barriers for people of color,” Buitrago said. “That has effects across generations that we will see today.”
The McLean County Regional Planning Commission disputes the Heartland Alliance's data. Community planner Alyssa Cooper said the commission uses five-year averages which Census officials say paint a far more accurate picture. It shows McLean County's five-year poverty rate from 2013 to 2017 is 14.5 percent, which is lower than then Heartland Alliance's most recent annual figure of 15.6 percent.
Buitrago said Heartland Alliance said it uses the Census Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates rather than Census Bureau's American Community Survey data. The alliance said it uses SAIPE because it can accurately tracks statewide data as well as larger and smaller counties.
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