The 2008 Report on Illinois Poverty reports that the Midwest experienced a sizeable jump in poverty (10.2 to 12.4 percent) from 1999 to 2006, earning the distinction of having the largest increase of any region in the United States. Within Illinois specifically, 12.3 percent of the population lives in poverty according to the report's 2006 data. The sources of poverty are as varied as those that suffer from it, however, one factor that consistently influences earning potential is educational attainment and training. The Illinois Department of Employment Security reports that high school dropouts make up 50 percent of recipients of welfare assistance, and those without a high school education or equivalency are twice as likely to struggle to find employment and earn almost $9,000 less annually than their peers with high school diplomas or a GED. These findings are hardly new, and in fact are a reflection of a continuing trend toward a workplace in need of more skilled employees. At a time when costs of living continue to increase, the situation has arguably never been more critical, as there is undeniable potential for sustained growth of people living in poverty.

The United States Department of Labor reported that since January of 2008, the national unemployment rate grew by 3.6 percent, from 4.9 to 8.5 in the month of March 2009. This rising unemployment rate will continue to make it increasingly more difficult for young people without a high school degree or equivalent to find work, not to mention those who have the added hardship of little or no workplace skills.

YouthBuild Illinois programs, funded in part by IDHS, are directly addressing the aforementioned need in the State through services delivered by four community-based organizations highlighted in the following section.