This report is presented by Northwestern University, Center for Healthcare Equity – Institute for Healthcare Studies, in collaboration with Chicago State University and The Chicago Department of Public Health. The report was made possible with support from the Aetna Foundation and Aetna, Inc.

Socioeconomic Status

Socioeconomic status is a measure of an individual’s or family’s economic and social position based on education, income, and occupation. It is such a strong predictor of health that an assessment of the health of Chicago would be incomplete without consideration of the socioeconomic status of its residents. This section will present data on measures related to socioeconomic status. These include measures of income (median family and median household income, and poverty levels), and measures associated with income status (educational level and employment levels).


Many research studies have found that a higher level of educational attainment is a strong predictor of access to economic and healthcare resources. The variation in educational attainment may contribute to the differences in access and utilization of health care among different social groups. Figure 10 shows that in 2009, males and females had approximately the same level of achievement at each education level. In 2009, there were racial/ethnic differences in the educational attainment of Chicago residents (fig. 11). Twenty-three percent of Chicago residents had less than a high school diploma or GED. The percentage of Chicago adults with less than a high school diploma or GED was highest for Hispanics/Latinos (43%) and lowest among Whites (7%). The percentage of Black adults with some college or an associate’s degree was approximately two times higher than Hispanic/Latino and White adults.

The percentage of White adults who had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher was three times higher than the percentage of Blacks and nearly five times higher than Hispanic/Latino adults. More than 50% of Asian adults in living in Chicago had a bachelor’s degree or higher.


In 2009, 70% of males and 66% of females ages 16–64 were employed full time (fig. 12).

In 2009, 64% of the nondisabled population ages 18–64 was employed, compared with 19% of the disabled population (fig. 13).

In 2009, Whites had a lower unemployment rate compared with residents other racial/ethnic groups (fig. 14). The unemployment rate among Blacks was almost three times the rate among Whites. The rate among Hispanics/Latinos was more than 1.5 times the rate among White males.


In 2009, median annual household income for Chicago ($45,734) was less than the national median household income ($ 50,221) (fig. 15). The per capita household income ($27,138) was greater than the national per capita household income ($26,409) (for both indicators, the difference between Chicago and the U.S. is statistically significant).

Figure 16 illustrates the five-year trend in median annual household income. Between 2005 and 2009, the overall median annual household income of Chicago residents increased by 11% to $45,734. Differences in the median annual household incomes were observed when stratified by race/ethinicity. White residents had a substantially higher median annual household income in comparison to Asian, Black, and Hispanic/Latino residents. The median income for African American and Hispanic/Latino households is significantly lower than for the city as whole.

In 2009, the median annual household income for Asian residents was $54,482; for Black residents $28,725; for Hispanic/Latino residents $39,461; and for White residents $63,625. The decline in median household income across all racial/ethnic groups in 2009 can be attributed to the economic downturn.

A family household is defined as a household in which at least one other member of the household is related to the head of the house. Figure 17 shows the median annual family household income among Chicago residents. In 2009 it was $52,101—an 11% increase from 2005. Substantial differences in annual median family household income were observed by race/ethnicity. In 2009, the median annual family household income for White residents was $89,817, compared with $66,122 for Asian, $34,794 for Black, and $40,149 for Hispanic/Latino families.


Poverty and low living standards are powerful determinants of ill health and health inequity.[7] They have significant consequences for early childhood development and lifelong trajectories. In the U.S., low socioeconomic position means poor education, lack of amenities, unemployment, and job insecurity, poor working conditions, and unsafe neighborhoods, with their consequent impact on family life.

The U.S. Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to detect who is poor. If the total income for a family household or for an unrelated individual falls below the relevant poverty threshold, then the family or unrelated individual is classified as being below the poverty level.[8] The official poverty thresholds do not vary geographically, but they are updated yearly for inflation using the consumer price index (CPI-U).

Figure 18 shows the characteristics of Chicago residents living below the poverty line. In 2009, 22% of Chicago residents had an income that fell below the poverty line. With regard to education attainment level, a higher percentage of residents over the age of 25 with less than a high school diploma lived below the poverty level, compared with residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher. A higher percentage of unemployed residents lived below the poverty level in comparison to employed residents. A higher percentage of disabled Chicago residents reported living below the poverty level in comparison to nondisabled residents. The percentage of residents living in poverty was highest among residents under age 18 and lowest among residents ages 65 and older. The percentages of residents living in poverty were fairly similar with respect to place of birth and gender.

The percentage of individuals living below the poverty level has remained fairly constant since 2002 for Chicago overall (Figure 19). However, there have been fluctuations in the percentage of the population living in poverty for Black, Asian and Hispanic/Latino residents. From 2002–2009, the highest percentage of residents living in poverty have been Blacks. During this period, the percentage of Asians living in poverty had been steadily declining until 2009, when it increased 26% (from 13.9% in 2008 to 17.5% in 2009). The percentage of Hispanics/Latinos living in poverty has been increasing incrementally since 2004.

Since 2002, the percentage of all families with income below the poverty level has remained below 20% (fig. 20). The percentage of female-headed households with children under age 18 with income below the poverty level increased 13% from 39.3% in 2002 to 44.7% in 2009.