Poverty highest for Black, Asian Chicagoans; lower for white, Hispanic residents

Poverty highest for Black, Asian Chicagoans; lower for white, Hispanic residents

Poverty in Chicago’s Black community is on the rise despite falling to record lows nationally.

More than 207,000 Black Chicagoans lived at or below the federal poverty line in 2022, an increase from 2021.

And while Black Chicagoans represent 28% of the city’s total population, they make up 46% of the city’s impoverished population. That imbalance is despite the poverty rate for Black Americans falling to an all-time low in 2022: 17.1%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The opposite happened in Chicago, where poverty rates for Black Chicagoans hit 28.7% in 2022, up from 26.7% in 2021.

Even when only compared to other cities, where poverty is higher than in the nation as a whole, Black Chicagoans suffer more. Black residents of other cities saw their poverty rates decline from 25.5% in 2021 to 24.8% in 2022. The latest data reveals stark contrasts between racial and ethnic groups both relative to other cities and within the city of Chicago itself.

Poverty in Chicago is far higher among minority populations than the city’s white population. The Black population has a poverty rate almost triple the white population at 28.7% versus 10.3%. The Asian population has a poverty rate of 18.2% – more than 76% higher than the white population. The Hispanic and Latino population faces a poverty rate of 14.8%.

The differences in poverty rates between the white population and minority populations is far higher in Chicago than in most other major U.S. cities. This is partly because white Chicagoans have lower poverty rates than their counterparts in other cities, while Black and Asian Chicagoans have higher poverty rates than their peers elsewhere. The poverty rate among Chicago’s Hispanic population is also significantly lower than the national average in cities, as is the difference between the Chicago white and Hispanic poverty rates.

Race and ethnicity are not mutually exclusive, and reliably estimating these populations without double counting is virtually impossible, as the Census Bureau does not report race and ethnicity in combination, other than for the white population. However, they can still be viewed through each variable respectively to get a sense of the share of each demographic in the impoverished population.

When looking at race alone – where the Hispanic population is distributed within each category – there are more than 95,000 (21%) white Chicagoans in poverty, compared to more than 207,000 (46%) Black Chicagoans, more than 35,000 (8%) Asian Chicagoans, and more than 113,000 (30%) Chicagoans who consider themselves American Indian, Alaskan native, two or more races, or “some other race alone.”

When considering ethnicity – where race is distributed within the Hispanic or Latino category – we see there are more than 117,000 (26%) Hispanic Chicagoans in poverty.

The data shows while each of these groups make up a sizable portion of the total poverty population in Chicago, the city’s Black and Asian populations endure poverty rates far higher than their counterparts in other U.S. cities, while poverty rates among the city’s white and Hispanic populations are lower.

Differences in educational attainment, participation in the labor force and instances of unemployment all contribute to differences in household income among these groups.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows employment status is the single-most important factor impacting the poverty rate. Full-time employees in Chicago not only face lower poverty rates than Americans in other large cities, but securing full-time, year-round employment virtually eliminates the odds of being in poverty.

The likelihood of employment is associated with increased educational attainment. Meanwhile, research shows education improves lifetime earnings and median earnings improve with every level of education completed. The combined employment and earnings potential effects of education also contribute to major differences in poverty rates, with each higher level of educational attainment being associated with lower instances of poverty.

Those focused on addressing these inequalities and improving outcomes among Chicagoans should keep these facts in mind as they weigh how to address Chicago’s poverty crisis. Evidence suggests anti-poverty programs that incentivize work have been effective in increasing employment and raising incomes to promote upward mobility.

Future poverty alleviation solutions should focus on better employment outcomes for capable individuals. Removing cumbersome regulations, improving the quality of education and fostering an environment in which employees, employers and communities can flourish present opportunities for public policy solutions that can reduce poverty and improve the lives of Chicagoans – regardless of their income status.

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