Cunningham Township supervisor breaks down poverty stats for board

Cunningham Township supervisor breaks down poverty stats for board

URBANA — In November, when Cunningham Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth told the city council that data showed a high level of poverty in the city, some aldermen quickly questioned it, wondering how much it was skewed by the large population of college students.

At Monday's monthly meeting of the township board, made up of the same people as the city council, Chynoweth returned with more detailed statistics showing that poverty rates for people outside of college age are larger in Urbana than in comparable communities.

"We have a poverty problem in Urbana," Chynoweth said. "The data is clear. We're not talking about students 18 to 25 being poor. Our children are poor. The poverty is significant outside of that group."

Chynoweth's data — organized by township volunteer and University of Illinois doctoral student Allan Axelrod — shows a higher rate of poverty among Urbana residents aged 5 and under, under 18, and over 25 than among their counterparts in Champaign, Normal, Bloomington and "even West Lafayette (Ind.), which has an overall higher poverty rate," according to the memo sent to board members.

The numbers show that the poverty rate for all Urbana residents was 18.9 percentage points higher than the national rate, 8.2 percentage points higher than Champaign and 21.1 percentage points higher than Bloomington. Rates for those under age 18 are similar, and while the rate for residents over 65 is below the national average, it's the highest of the communities included.

At 17.5 percent, poverty among residents 25 and older is also much higher than other comparable communities — 5.7 percentage points higher than the national average, 5.6 percentage points higher than Champaign, 7.2 percentage points higher than Bloomington and 11.1 percentage points higher than Normal.

When it comes to the college-age population, the Urbana's rate of 75.5 percent is higher than comparable communities, but not by much. The high rate is expected for a group "that can't earn the same wages as older groups," Chynoweth said.

"I think it's important we have data-driven policies," Chynoweth said. "When we're doing policy, it's very important to understand what our data looks like and why. There's a lot of misconception that crime follows poverty, but we have significantly less crime and a poorer community. So less violence and crime, why is that? It's worth talking about."

Township board member Bill Brown said this time around, Chynoweth had "good estimates" and was overall "pretty accurate" but added that excluding students from data doesn't provide a good picture of overall poverty in the city. He said as with a lot of statistics on population, numbers often leave out non-family households and single people.

"But at least breaking it down by age like this gave us more information," Brown said. "I think there's a lot of graduate students in that 'over 25' category because we have Orchard Downs and a sizeable graduate-student population. But this gave us a good picture."

As for whether he would describe Urbana as a poor community, Brown said it has "poor segments" but is probably lower-middle income in general.

"I don't feel it's a poor community," he said.

Mayor Diane Marlin agreed, saying the data does show statistically higher rates of poverty in certain age populations but chalking it up to the "very high student population" in the city.

It's important, she said, not to restrict student populations to just 18-24-year-olds. She said students outside that age range, along with the city's older housing stock, a housing market dominated by rentals and a large number of people in affordable housing all make her "very cautious about conclusions" drawn in Chynoweth's report.

"I don't know how to characterize it, but I wouldn't call Urbana a poor community," Marlin said. "No doubt about it, we have people living in poverty here, and we need to do whatever it takes to address that. But it's tricky, because everything in Urbana is so affected by the student population."

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