Maureen Foertsch McKinney

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is the NPR Illinois News Editor and a lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers,  and is curator of the Equity blog. Maureen joined the staff in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Illinois recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families - also known as TANF - will see an increase in the amount of their monthly grants in October. A $22 million boost was negotiated in the budget this year. Advocates for the poor say the difference may mean more families will be off the streets.

The gap, caused mainly by homicides, is one of the biggest in the nation.

SOCIAL IMPACT RESEARCH CENTER / HEARTLAND ALLIANCE

About half of Illinois counties are on poverty watch or warning lists released Monday by an anti-poverty organization, the Heartland Alliance.

The number of counties with those poor ratings increased from 30 last year to 52 this year. 

The ratings cover areas including unemployment, teen births and high school graduation rates. The counties on the watch or warning lists are either higher than the state average in those topics or have seen these categories get worse over time.

Black kids in Illinois are far more likely to die than their white and Hispanic counterparts, due to issues ranging from maternal stress to disease and homicide. 

The gap in death rates for black children as opposed to other races is the third-largest in the nation, while the gap in the teen death rate is the fourth-highest.

The gap still exists for infants, but is a little narrower than it had been in the past.

Katie Buck / NPR Illinois

Experts blame the long-standing problem on discrimination, especially the "inadequate, inequitable'' education funding system.

The unemployment rate for African-Americans is higher in Illinois than in any other state in the nation.

And Illinois has been among the states with the highest black unemployment rate nearly every quarter since 2016.

Keeping cases unsealed leaves guiltless tenants at risk for rejection, but that could make it difficult for landlords to be diligent in screening, Realtors say.

UPDATE: The House Tuesday voted down Senate Bill 2332, which would have raised the tobacco purchase age in Illinois to to 21.

A measure in play at the Statehouse would make it a crime to sell tobacco products,  including cigarettes and vaping devices, to those under age 21.

Laura Sido of East Alton worked in bars and restaurants all of her adult life.  She smoked on and off until earlier this month. Sido, a 49-year-old stay-at-home grandmother, now has a chronic lung disease, COPD. And she  says she is in favor of anything that could keep young people from smoking.

Illinois' child poverty rate is just as high as it was in 2010. Is the state doing enough to bring it down?

Kellia Phillips’ teen-aged daughters Jaleece and Janae run track. They have had to do so in ill-fitting shoes sometimes as old as three years.

Janae, 13, loves to knit and crochet. Her mother, says, “I could only get her yarn like every three months and she was so much into knitting and crocheting. I still can’t do that for her right now because I have no income.’’ 

Equality Illinois

With rapid-fire changes to LGBT provisions at the federal level, advocates want to keep Illinois' status as one of the leading states in offering protections. 

Alex McCray didn’t want to believe Donald Trump had won the election. In the words of the transgender nursing student from downstate Sherman: “I was hoping it was all just one terrible nightmare. It felt like my rights were being ripped out right from underneath me.”

The state has some of the most aggressive protections for transgender people in the country, but the issue still generates controversy here.

Illinois, with its expansive decade-old anti-discrimination law, is one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to transgender rights, but even in this state there has been a noisy response to rapidly evolving national and local policies on the issue.

Legislation sponsored by a Northwest suburban lawmaker would require school boards to tell students they could only use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their sex. Males with males. Females with females.

Republican Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine says he sponsored the legislation to create an “objective standard."

"The vast majority of students are minors, and so it is appropriate that if they’re in school,  we need to make sure that we ensure their privacy within those changing areas.”

Chicago State University won’t have funds to operate by March 1 if  state money is not released, officials there have said.

Tristian Ellis’ test scores in reading and math dropped dramatically this fall from last. The difference: the Ellis family had its own apartment last year. Now, the family of four stays in a shelter on Chicago’s far north side.

For the 8-year-old student, who attends LEARN Excel Charter on the city’s northwest side, distractions abound. His mother, Latoya Ellis, lost her job in August and moved into the shelter a month later. She describes being homeless as “a very devastating experience,’’ which is particularly hard on Tristian, her youngest child.

A new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline found that “in all 50 states, the percentage of ‘middle-class’ households — those making between 67 percent and 200 percent of the state’s median income — shrunk between 2000 and 2013.”

In Illinois, according to the assessment, that share slipped from 49.8 percent in 2000 to 45.8 percent in 2013. The median income in this state was $56,210 in 2013, down from an inflation-adjusted $64,201 in 2000.

  Illinois earned a B- in a new report assessing status of women’s employment and wages in the states.

The report is a project of the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

According to the assessment, in Illinois, women earn 80 cents for every dollar men earned, and women will not receive equal pay in the state for another 50 years.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of women in Illinois have low-wage jobs.

Lawmakers in Springfield are renewing efforts to pass legislation that would ban the practice of sexual orientation conversion therapy for minors.

The poverty rate in Illinois has held steady in recent years despite the nation’s post-Great Recession status.

That’s according to a report issued this week by the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center. The group reported that the 14.7 percent poverty rate in Illinois for 2013 (the most recent data available for the analysis) has been unchanged since 2012. The 2011 poverty rate was slightly higher than that at 15 percent.