By PATRICIA SIMPSON
Trends in Illinois poverty:
The American dream soured in the 1980s for many Illinoisans who slipped below the federal poverty line. An increase in poverty rates contrasted with the two previous decades: During the 1960s poverty rates fell as a result of the federal War on Poverty, and during the 1970s rates remained steady. As significant as the rise in poverty was its racial composition: The 1980's increase fell disproportionately on blacks.
In 1979 there were 26 million poor people in the United States; by 1988 there were 31 million. The poverty rate increased over the period from 11.7 percent to 13.1 percent. In Illinois, the number of poor grew from 1,230,541 to 1,405,864, an increase of 175,323 (see table 1). The Illinois poverty rate increase from 11 percent to 12.3 percent was below the national increase.
Regionally Chicago accounted for the largest concentration of poor Illinoisans in 1988. Sixty-three percent of the state's poor resided in the city. The equivalent figures for whites, blacks and Hispanics were 52 percent, 75 percent and 93 percent, respectively.
Racial differences are also apparent in the growth of poverty rates. The poverty rate for Illinois whites rose from 7.2 percent in 1979 to 8.4 percent in 1988, a growth rate of 16.6 percent. Over the same period the poverty rate for Hispanics rose from 20.2 percent to 22.0 percent, an 8.9 percent increase. The seemingly lower rate for Hispanics requires a word of caution: The categories white, black and Hispanic are not mutually exclusive. Individuals in the "Hispanic" category may also be counted in the "white" or "black" category.
Mutually exclusive categories are available for 1988, but not for 1979. Exclusion of Hispanics drops the 1988 white poverty rate from 8.4 percent to 6.4 percent (see table 2), suggestig that a good portion of white poverty in Illinois overlaps with Hispanic poverty. Further, the increase in white poverty charted in table 1 may in fact reflect the rapid expansion of the Hispanic immigrant community in Illinois.
The status of blacks is more clear-cut. Poverty growth among blacks outdistanced whites, with or without Hispanics. The black poverty rate of 30.2 percent in 1979 rose to 37.9 percent in 1988. This amounts to a 28.8 percent increase, more than double the growth rate for whites and triple the rate for Hispanics.
As black poverty has increased relative to white poverty, so has black income declined relative to white income. In 1975 median family income in Illinois was $22,746; it was $23,999 for whites, $14,478 for blacks and $17,476 for Hispanics (see
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table 3). In 1988 median family income in Illinois had risen to $35,046, topped by whites at $37,260. Hispanic median family income at $27,150 was still far behind whites but had not lost ground, standing at 77 percent of the median level in both 1979 and 1988.
Again blacks fared far worse. Black median family income showed only a marginal increase to $16,900 in 1988, meaning that the position of black families was deteriorating. In 1979 black median family income was 64 percent that of the state median; by 1988 it had dropped to 48 percent.
Median family income has not kept up with inflation for any of the three racial groups. The Consumer Price Index grew by 59.9 percent in the north central states between 1979 and 1988.
To have kept pace with inflation, overall median family income should have been $36,371 in 1988; instead it was $35,046 or 96.4 percent of what would have been needed to meet inflation. For whites the actual figure of $37,260 is 97.1 percent of their CPI-adjusted amount; for Hispanics the actual figure, $27,150, is also 97.1 percent of their CPI-adjusted level. Black median family income, $16,900, is a mere 73 percent of their CPI-adjusted amount.
Studies of the dramatic economic setback experienced by blacks in this period do not agree on the cause for the phenomenon. Some emphasize structural changes in the economy and inequities in the educational system. Others stress demographic factors within the black community such as high school dropouts, teenage pregnancy, female-headed households and intergenerational welfare dependency. Still others look at recent changes in the urban economy that affect employability of black males and, in turn, black family structure and composition.
For Illinois the 1980 Census and the 1989 Current Population Survey data offer some hints at what's happening rather than a conclusive explanation for blacks' declining position. The reports would seem to finger black unemployment and breakdown of the black family but discount factors of family size, age and educational attainment.
The strongest explanation for increased black poverty appears to be rising black unemployment. The unemployment rate for blacks increased by 3.9 percentage points during this period. The increase contrasted with the rates for whites and Hispanics, which started significantly lower than that for blacks and then dropped. The result was a 1988 black unemployment rate that was more than twice that for Hispanics and almost four times that for whites. This is clearly parallel to the increase in poverty among the black population, as well as to the growing income disparity between blacks and other ethnic and racial groups.
The increase in black poverty was paralleled by an increase in the number of female-headed black families between 1980 and 1988. The proportion of female-headed black families rose substantially from 41.7 percent to 53.0 percent, an increase of 27 percent. The growth of similar white families was less substantial, from 10.4 to 12.6 percent, an increase of 21.1 percent. For Hispanics, the growth was from 16.9 to 20.5 percent, an increase of 21.3 percent.
Three other socioeconomic characteristics fail to explain the growth of black poverty. First, although some of the income differential between whites and blacks in Illinois may be a function of the relative youth of the black population, the data demonstrate that the black population aged at a slightly faster rate than the white. In 1980 the median white age was 31.5 years and the black was 24.3, a difference of 7.2 years. In 1988 there was a difference of 7.0 years between the white median of 32.0 years and the black of 25.0 years. The Hispanic population aged even more markedly from 22.1 years, or 9.4 years less than the white median, to 23.5 years, only 8.5 years less than the white.
Second, family size does not appear to account for the increase in black poverty. Mean size of black families decreased from 3.81 in 1980 to 3.39 in 1988. Nor does the fact that black
The result was a 1988 black unemployment rate that was more than twice that for Hispanics and almost four times that for whites
families are larger than white families account for the growing gap between black and white income. In 1980 the mean size of black families was 18.3 percent larger than for whites; in 1988 black families were only 7.2 percent larger than white families. For Hispanics, too, family size seems to be decreasing as a factor in accounting for higher poverty rates. The median size of Hispanic families declined from 4.04 in 1979 to 3.76 in 1988. In 1979 Hispanic families were 25.4 percent larger than white families but were only 18.9 percent larger in 1988.
Third, number of years of schooling does not explain the increase in black poverty. (This is complex because the data do not reflect the quality of education.) The median years of school
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completed changed from 12.5 percent to 12.7 percent for the white population, while for blacks it increased from 12.2 to 12.6 percent and more significantly for Hispanics from 9.5 to 11.4 years (see table 4).
This cursory analysis of socioeconomic factors indicates that family size, age and years of schooling can be all but eliminated as causes for the dramatic increase in black poverty in Illinois during the 1980s. On the other hand, the data constitute a form of circumstantial evidence that two variables, female-headed families and unemployment, deserve more serious consideration. By implication, the evidence also supports theories linking black poverty, black unemployment and the decline of two-parent families in black communities. William Julius Wilson, the renowned University of Chicago sociologist, has argued that recent changes in the urban economy adversely affected the employability of black males in particular. In turn, black family structure and composition have been severely strained as fewer black males have had legitimate economic means to sustain the social roles and responsibilities of fatherhood.
Government policies that seek to combat rising poverty and breakdown in the families should recognize that unemployment delimits poverty and contributes to dysfunctional families. Job training and economic development strategies, targeted to the needs of poor blacks and the economically distressed communities in which they live, should be considered. Illinois' current economic development programs have been criticized in studies done by Auditor General Robert G. Cronson, the Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois and the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce.
Job creation is part of the solution. Government can provide subsidies to businesses in the forms of grants, contracts, loans and tax breaks, but the public sector must be careful that the promised jobs are forthcoming. Studies have shown that good roads, bridges and public transportation have a stronger im-
Government policies . . . should recognize that unemployment delimits poverty . . .
pact on business retention and expansion than subsidies. Other studies have shown that small business is the economy's fastest growing jobs generator and deserves to be encouraged in producing good jobs.
The other part of the solution is being sure people have the skills to hold jobs. Dislocated worker retraining programs are needed to combat unemployment resulting from deindustrialization in poor communities. Project Chance, Illinois' welfare-to-work program, must include services to help clients hold jobs, things like day care for children and transportation costs. Finally, the distorting effects of black male unemployment on the family could be countered by expanding employment training programs for welfare-dependent adult males.
Poverty has grown in all major racial groups, although blacks have been hit the hardest
Illinois' industrial policy must be defined by the increasing poverty in Illinois. Poverty has grown in all major racial groups, although blacks have been hurt the hardest. And poverty grew in the state while Illinois was enjoying an economic recovery. If recession arrives in the 90s, it is unthinkable what will happen to poverty unless countermeasures are immediately adopted.
Patricia Simpson is assistant professor of industrial and labor relations at the Institute for Industrial and Labor Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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