Report: More Illinois working mothers are low-income

  • Forty Percent of the state’s low-income working families are headed by working mothers

Nationwide, there are now 4.1 million low-income families headed by working mothers, with more than 160,000 of those in Illinois, according to the new report, “Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Economic Future.”

The report,  released by the Working Poor Families Project, utilizes the latest data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and finds that Illinois ranks 19th in female-headed, low-income working families. As of 2012, there were 404,108 low-income working  families in the state, with 163,341 headed by working mothers.

“Forty percent of Illinois’ low-income families are headed by women,” Women Employed Executive Director Anne Ladky said. “Women in our state are concentrated in the least-stable, lowest-paying jobs with the fewest benefits. We need to make these jobs better by ensuring that everyone who works is paid a decent wage, earns paid sick time and can count on a stable schedule.

“We must also make sure  that more low-paid working women can enter and succeed in postsecondary education, a proven pathway to economic advancement. What’s good for women is good for Illinois—and the country.”

Many of the factors keeping working mothers in poverty can be addressed at the state level, the report found. State governments have significant authority and opportunity to help low-income working mothers gain the education and skills they need to provide for their children, as well as provide important supports that can assist them as they strive to become economically secure.

The report found that 48 percent of women heading low-income working families in Illinois have no postsecondary education. According to the report, improving access to and success within postsecondary education by providing need-based financial aid to part-time students along with affordable child care is the most meaningful reform that can help low-income families.

Other measures states can take include improving the quality of low-wage jobs by raising the minimum wage, assuring all workers have paid sick leave and paid family leave. Helping workers obtain other assistance, such as a state-refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and expanded Medicaid eligibility is also helpful, experts say.

“Without access to the necessary educational and training opportunities, the number of low-income families across Illinois will continue to grow and their communities will suffer,” said Carrie Thomas, of the Chicago Jobs Council. “Sensible policy will lead to a pathway out of poverty for thousands of low-income working families across the state.”

The report defines low-income working families as earning no more than twice the federal poverty income threshold; in 2012, the low-income threshold for a family of three with two children was $36,966.

“Too many female-headed working families have no pathway out of poverty,” said Deborah Povich, co-manager of the Working Poor Families Project and one of three authors of the report. “Public policy can and must play a critical role in increasing opportunities so families can achieve economic security. Addressing the needs of low-income working mothers will benefit their children and future generations.”

Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Economic Future can be found at

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