The cost of living in Illinois is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing down any day soon.
We have the second-highest property taxes in the nation. According to the Illinois Department of Revenue and the U.S. Census Bureau, Illinois property taxes have significantly outpaced income growth since 1990.
This dilemma has made it challenging for local businesses and homeowners to pay off their principal balance in a reasonable amount of time because their property tax payments consume a considerable amount of their available capital.
Furthermore, Illinois is ranked as 21st among all states regarding healthcare access and affordability. Income inequality is high in Illinois with one out of every three Illinoisans unable to make ends meet before the Novel Coronavirus. Our gas prices continue to be one of the highest in the nation.
The cost of education, a critical access point for alleviating poverty and developing an educated twenty-first-century workforce in our state, has also been rising. The average cost of in-state four-year college tuition was $18,329 for the 2018-2019 academic year, not including fees, room-and-board, and textbooks, and other expenses, and it has only increased since. The cost of college in Illinois is $3,922 higher than the U.S. average. This higher-than-average cost makes Illinois the 10th most expensive state to attend college in the entire country. Students should not have to leave the state to receive an affordable education, and yet that is exactly what happens. One out of every two high school graduates enrolled in a four-year college leaves Illinois for an education elsewhere.
Illinoisans are not surprisingly graduating with massive amounts of debt. In 2017, the average college graduate in Illinois left school with $29,000 in student loan debt. This figure doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Not only are our students taking on significant amounts of debt at young ages to finance their futures, what is not calculated in the average student debt statistics in Illinois are the loans that families and friends take out to support a student’s education. Student loan debt is not only impacting student borrowers but their support networks as well.
Considering that we’re currently experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, where our local businesses and many Illinoisans have been negatively impacted financially (one out of every five workers reported being unemployed), and average job growth statewide has been stagnant for many years, this may be more unbearable than ever before. Moreover, a vast number of college students and recent graduates did not qualify for the one-time federal stimulus check, although many college students are taxpayers.
Economic reforms are needed. Illinois needs education reform and a guaranteed Universal Basic Income to best address this crisis and support our future generations.
How Universal Basic Income Reform would make a better Illinois
It’s simple: a Universal Basic Income (“UBI”) will advance and strengthen the financial security of every Illinoisane during a historic global crisis when they need it most. A Universal Basic Income of just $1,000 each month would increase the per capita income for Illinoisans by over a third. This necessary injection of an economic lifeline to all Illinoisans will ensure that every resident has better access to basic living necessities and a higher quality of life.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois’s unemployment rate averaged 3.53% between December 2019 and February 2020. By May 2020, one out of five workers were unemployed based solely off unemployment filings, which does not include those who never filed or gave up because of the state’s inadequate response to the surge of 1.3 million unemployment claims. This historic spike in unemployment has left many Illinoisans with minimal funds to provide for themselves or their families. Federal support has been virtually non-existent, and the state has taken months to resolve its unemployment system failings.
Had Universal Basic Income been a reality, Illinoisans would be experiencing less financial hardship than we are now. Since shutting businesses in March until reopening yesterday, June 26, Illinoisans would have received at least $3,000 from the state in addition to unemployment insurance funds and the one-time federal stimulus of $1,200.
This economic safety net would have led to less uncertainty among our state’s residents about where financial assistance would come from because they would have been guaranteed a basic income—something that would always be there and that they can count on in Illinois.
How Education Reform would make a better Illinois
The average cost of public college tuition in Illinois is 27% higher than the national average. This fall, the average Illinois student will pay $34,000 in tuition and fees, which is the same as our state’s per capita income. This means we’re requiring our students to pay the same amount that an average Illinoisan makes in a year for just one year of college. Education reform in Illinois would allow Illinoisans to pursue their dreams without undertaking enormous amounts of student loan debt to do so. To make education accessible for every Illinoisan, we must eliminate tuition for all community colleges and four-year public universities and provide full tuition assistance for trade schools in the state.
In addition to eliminating college tuition for Illinoisans, Congress must pass comprehensive student debt relief legislation to address the massive levels of student loan debt of graduates. This is vital, as the skyrocketing student debt levels remain unaddressed. Last year, debt grew to $1.6 trillion dollars with one out of every six Americans burdened.
We know that the burden of debt is significant for our students and our households. Higher education continues to provide a means of upward mobility in our society as our economy continues to transition to nearly necessitate a college degree in the twenty-first-century workforce. The unmanageable debt that our current system forces students to take on to achieve the basics of their future dreams, be it through college or through trade schools, which start in the thousands of dollars per program and quickly rise to rival tuition costs for public universities, makes it impossible to progress or even survive.
When students graduate with debt, they are more likely to put off buying a car, purchasing a home, and even getting married and starting a family. Student loan debt, which is a completely manageable phenomenon with decisive political action, should not prevent students from living.
Illinoisans deserve a quality education and equitable access to basic living necessities. Universal Basic Income and tuition-free education reform will ensure a bright future for Illinois. We can build communities we can be proud of. Together.
Sherijay L. Beckford, Policy Associate
Sherijay L. Beckford is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago, where she graduated with honors in Political Science, B.A. During her time at Loyola, she chartered and served as the president of a nonprofit that seeks to empower young women to run for office. Sherijay has a history of lobbying for action around homelessness and climate change, as well as working with elected officials and community leaders to cultivate a more equitable society for Chicagoans. She previously interned for a year with the City of Chicago as a City Markets Intern through the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Sherijay is currently interning with a grassroots congressional campaign, where she conducts and writes research on policies related to criminal and economic justice, maternal healthcare, and tuition-free university education in addition to producing campaign op-eds and social media content.
Naeelah Chism, Policy Associate
Naeelah Chism holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science with minors in Legal Studies and Gender Studies from McKendree University. Naeelah has previously lobbied both in Springfield and in Washington D.C. for issues ranging from funding for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) to comprehensive sex education for youth. She is presently pursuing a Master’s of Science in Education with an emphasis in Higher Education Leadership. Naeelah is currently working on completing a practicum experience at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Dean of Students Office. There, she will be reviewing policies, protocols, and procedures to address student organization and individual student misconduct and disruptive behavior.