New Report Finds One in Three Illinois Households Can't Afford Basic Needs

Over one million working households in the state live above the poverty line but still don't earn enough for necessities

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Thirty-six​ percent of Illinois households have incomes below the state’s cost of living, according to new data from the report “ALICE in Illinois: A Financial Hardship Study.” The report was funded by the United Way of Illinois and led by Dr. Stephanie Hoopes, Director of the ALICE project, a national research initiative. 

ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, are households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living for the state (the ALICE Threshold). Of Illinois’ 4,817,547 households, 12 percent earn below the Federal Poverty Level and another 24 percent are ALICE households.

“People living below the ALICE Threshold live and work in our communities, but struggle to stay afloat financially,” said Sue Grey, Board Chair of United Way of Illinois and President and CEO of United Way of Champaign County. “Low wages, the need to string together multiple part-time or contract jobs to get sufficient working hours, and the high cost of living in our state mean that many working people, from cashiers to cleaners, aren’t making enough to get by. This impacts all of us, as people living below the ALICE Threshold do not have the disposable income to support and drive the state economy.”  

A mismatch between wages and cost of living contributes to the problem. Statewide, the Household Survival Budget for two adults and two young children requires one full-time income at an hourly wage of $28.57, but 56 percent of jobs in Illinois pay less than $20 per hour. 

Despite the documented economic recovery, the share of Illinois households living below the ALICE Threshold increased between 2007 and 2017, the latest year for which data is available. In 2007, 31 percent of Illinois households were below the ALICE Threshold. By 2017, that number had climbed to 36 percent. In Chicago, 43 percent of households are below the ALICE Threshold. 

"The United Way's critical report on the hardship facing so many Chicagoans fills an important data gap on the working families throughout our city struggling to make ends meet every day,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “Their challenge is our City's challenge, and my team will partner with United Way's leadership to advance our shared agenda to end economic hardship and grow and strengthen the middle class in Chicago.”

ALICE households exist throughout all parts of Illinois and include people of all ages, races and ethnicities, and educational levels. However, Black and Hispanic households are more likely than White and Asian households to be below the ALICE threshold. 

“This problem can’t be solved with one change, because the high cost of living is driven by many factors,” Grey said. “Government agencies, nonprofits, communities and businesses need to work together to create change that improves the quality of life for the ALICE population and our communities across Illinois as a whole.” 

For the full report, including a county-by-county breakdown of the data, as well as information on the largest cities and towns in Illinois and specific Chicago neighborhoods, visit​. For sources and comments, contact Walker Post at 312-955-0921 or

United Way of Illinois (UWI) is a statewide association of local United Way organizations representing communities across Illinois. UWI fights to create lasting community change by helping children and youth succeed in school, promoting financial stability and family independence and improving the health of all Illinois residents.

United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, shining a light on the challenges ALICE households face and seeking collaborative solutions. Through a standardized methodology that assesses the cost of living in every county, this project provides a comprehensive look at financial hardship across the United States.

Source: United Way of Illinois

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