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dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;">Poverty might be more commonly associated with inner cities, but data shows poverty in rural Illinois is increasing at a faster rate than in urban areas.
While poverty levels are still higher in urban cities than rural parts of Illinois, the number of people living in poverty in rural areas rose by 12 percent between 2010 and 2015, compared with a 5 percent increase in cities.
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Katie Buitrago, director of research at the Social Impact Research Center at Heartland Alliance, says rural poverty gets less attention but is a growing concern. Heartland Alliance is an anti-poverty group working throughout the United States.
“I think there's a lot of misconceptions about who lives in poverty and it's perceived as sort of an urban inner-city problem,” Buitrago said.
Buitrago also said rural Southern Illinois has the most counties dealing with poverty. Alexander County has the highest poverty rate, at 28.6 percent — more than double the state average of 13.6 percent.
“We're trying to make the case that poverty is an issue throughout Illinois and that our leadership needs to be committed to taking it on both in urban areas and rural areas,” Buitrago said.
Buitrago says not enough research has been dedicated to identifying the causes for the increase in poverty in rural areas, but factors could include a slow recovery from the recession, an aging population on a fixed income and a less-educated workforce.
The state’s budget crisis also did not help rural communities fight rising poverty, she said.
“The budget crisis really took a toll on the few resources that were available,” Buitrago said. “We're concerned it's going to be hard to bounce back, especially in these areas that didn't have many resources to begin with.”
But one of the biggest factors facing Illinois’ rural counties is a lack of opportunity. The manufacturing-heavy areas have seen little economic growth in the last decade as many residents leave to chase down jobs that are in other states.
According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, 16 counties in central and southern Illinois had unemployment levels above 6 percent in June, while the rate jumped as high as 9.8 percent in southern Alexander County. Chicago and the collar counties all had unemployment levels below 6 percent.