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Census numbers showed 2016 was step in right direction

For data crunchers, the best thing about a New Year is a whole bunch of new data. The king of all data sites of course is Census.gov and when the calendar turns to 2018 we’ll be waiting eagerly for the American Community Survey data.

When Transform Rockford was launched in November 2013 with the goal of making Rockford one of the top 25 communities in the United States by 2025, it was understood that it was going to take time. Rockford’s issues in many cases took decades to develop.

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, the sensational headlines are many and it can be hard to see progress. Census numbers show the long-term trends. In 2010, the Census began surveying communities yearly to release annual numbers. Here are some of the more important numbers:

Population

Year

Rockford

Pct. Ch.

Illinois

Pct. Ch.

U.S.

Pct. Ch.

2010

154,517

12.75M

303.97M

2011

153,509

-0.7%

12.79M

0.4%

306.60M

0.9%

2012

152,948

-0.4%

12.82M

0.3%

309.13M

0.8%

2013

152,138

-0.5%

12.85M

0.2%

311.54M

0.8%

2014

151,290

-0.6%

12.87M

0.2%

314.11M

0.8%

2015

148,278

-2.0%

12.87M

0.0%

316.52M

0.8%

2016

147,651

-0.4%

12.85M

-0.2%

318.56M

0.6%

Obviously, a shrinking population is not a positive sign. Companies will be reluctant to relocate businesses or open locations in areas that aren’t growing.

Pct. of 25-year-olds
with bachelor’s degree

Year

Rockford

Pct. Ch.

Illinois

Pct. Ch.

U.S.

Pct. Ch.

2010

20.6%

30.3%

27.9%

2011

21.1%

2.4%

30.7%

1.3%

28.2%

1.1%

2012

20.7%

-1.9%

31.1%

1.3%

28.5%

1.1%

2013

20.8%

0.5%

31.4%

1.0%

28.8%

1.1%

2014

21.0%

1.0%

31.9%

1.6%

29.3%

1.7%

2015

21.0%

0.0%

32.3%

1.3%

30.4%

3.8%

2016

21.6%

2.9%

32.9%

1.9%

30.3%

-0.3%

Rockford remains one of the largest cities in the United States that doesn’t have a large, public, four-year college or university. For decades, talented students have gone away for college and many don’t return. There have been efforts to stitch together options for students to finish college in Rockford, but as these numbers show the education level of the U.S. as a whole continues to outpace Rockford.

Percent of
vacant housing units

Year

Rockford

Pct. Ch.

Illinois

Pct. Ch.

U.S.

Pct. Ch.

2010

13.0%

9.4%

12.2%

2011

12.5%

-3.8%

9.7%

3.2%

12.4%

1.6%

2012

12.3%

-1.6%

9.8%

1.0%

12.5%

0.8%

2013

12.2%

-0.8%

9.8%

0.0%

12.5%

0.0%

2014

12.1%

-0.8%

9.8%

0.0%

12.5%

0.0%

2015

11.7%

-3.3%

9.8%

0.0%

12.3%

-1.6%

2016

11.2%

-4.3%

9.6%

-2.0%

12.2%

-0.8%

Rockford is making steady progress in clearing out its vacant housing. This is one of the most positive signs of the Census data.

Percent working
in manufacturing

Year

Rockford

Pct. Ch.

Illinois

Pct. Ch.

U.S.

Pct. Ch.

2010

20.4%

13.0%

11.0%

2011

20.5%

0.5%

12.8%

-1.5%

10.8%

-1.8%

2012

20.3%

-1.0%

12.7%

-0.8%

10.6%

-1.9%

2013

20.6%

1.5%

12.6%

-0.8%

10.5%

-0.9%

2014

20.8%

1.0%

12.5%

-0.8%

10.4%

-1.0%

2015

21.1%

1.4%

12.6%

0.8%

10.4%

0.0%

2016

21.3%

0.9%

12.4%

-1.6%

10.3%

-1.0%

After years of focusing on diversifying the economy, leaders have put more emphasis on retaining and bringing back manufacturing to Rockford. These numbers show its been effective. While the percentage of people working in manufacturing continues to decline this decade, it’s increased five of the past six years.

Median
household income

Year

Rockford

Pct. Ch.

Illinois

Pct. Ch.

U.S.

Pct. Ch.

2010

$38,573

$55,735

$51,914

2011

$38,864

0.8%

$56,576

1.5%

$52,762

1.6%

2012

$38,157

-1.8%

$56,853

0.5%

$53,046

0.5%

2013

$38,067

-0.2%

$56,797

-0.1%

$53,146

0.0%

2014

$38,231

0.4%

$57,166

0.6%

$53,482

0.8%

2015

$38,716

1.3%

$57,574

0.7%

$53,889

0.8%

2016

$40,143

3.7%

$59,196

2.8%

$55,322

2.7%

The recovery from the Great Recession was painfully slow in Rockford, as the 2012 and 2013 figures show. The 2015 and 2016 numbers though show that economic efforts in the early part of the decade finally started to take root.

These data sets are just a snapshot. Taken together though and they showed that 2016 appeared to be a large step in the right direction of Transforming Rockford.

 

 


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Rockford recognized for ice skating

The Midwest winters aren’t usually one of Rockford’s best selling points, but Money Inc. thinks we have something pretty cool to do when the temps near zero.

The Eclipse Lagoon at Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens was listed as one of seven of the “Coolest Places to Ice Skate in the U.S.

It’s a good list. Rockford is mentioned along with such tourist destinations as Jackson, Wyoming, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Kansas City, Missouri.

So bring on winter.


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Some good news buried in school report cards

This year’s Illinois State School Report Cards generated a raft of tough headlines for the Rockford School District.

The percentage of the 28,370 students who met or exceeded state standards on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) was 17.5 percent, down from 19.1 percent the year before.

There were other numbers though that rose. Graduation rates increased from 65 percent to 67 percent and freshman-on-track-to-graduate percentages increased from 63 percent to 65.7 percent.

Two other numbers that pertain more to student well-being went unnoticed. The state began tracking the percentage of students who were homeless in the 2012-2013 school year and in 2016-2017 that number declined for the first time. It wasn’t huge, but it was a step in the right direction.

Year – percent homeless
2012-2013 – 4.8 percent
2013-2014 – 6.3 percent
2014-2015 – 6.8 percent
2015-2016 – 7.0 percent
2016-2017 – 6.7 percent

The second number which bears watching was District 205 low-income percentage. It showed a steep decline, from 58 percent to 51 percent.  The state’s low-income percentage was 50.2 percent.

All studies show a strong correlation between income levels and test levels. If these improving economic numbers are the beginning of a trend and not an anomaly then test scores are likely to follow.


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Crime, poverty rate drags Rockford down on 247wallst.com list

Rockford was ranked as the 16th “Worst American City to Live In,” by the website, 247wallst.com, which has targeted Rockford before on negative lists.

The website’s researchers dinged Rockford for economic woes – an 8.3 percent unemployment rate and 22.4 percent poverty rate – and for crime. It pegged Rockford’s annual crime rate at 1,585 incidents for every 100,000 residents, which was among the 10 worst out of 551 cities considered.

The 247wallst.com ranking was interesting considering there were several cities listed that are among the fastest growing or can be found on lists of best places to live. For example, Miami Beach was ranked No. 17 and Chattanooga, Tennessee was No. 30.

What were the 15 cities ranked below Rockford?

No. 15, Jackson, Mississippi
No. 14, Baltimore, Maryland
No. 13, Stockton, California
No. 12, Springfield, Missouri
No. 11, San Bernardino, California
No. 10, Wilmington, Delaware
No. 9, Merced, California
No. 8, Hartford, Connecticut
No. 7, Albany, Georgia
No. 6, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
No. 5, Memphis, Tennessee
No. 4, St. Louis, Missouri
No. 3, Flint, Michigan
No. 2, Birmingham, Alabama
No. 1, Detroit, Michigan


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Rockford is a pretty good driving town

According to insurance giant Allstate, Rockford is one of the 50 best cities in the United States when it comes to avoiding collisions.

Rockford came in 49th on a list of the top 200 cities on Allstate’s annual America’s Best Drivers report. Rockford city drivers average 9.8 years between insurance claims.

Rockford’s 2017 ranking is actually a return to form. We’ve been in the top 200 every year Allstate has released this list and ranked as high as 25th in 2014 before dropping to No. 57 in 2016.

The top 10 cities in terms of avoiding collisions:

  1. Kansas City, Kansas
  2. Brownsville, Texas
  3. Madison, Wisconsin
  4. Huntsville, Alabama
  5. Cape Coral, Florida
  6. Boise, Idaho
  7. Laredo, Texas
  8. Port St. Lucie, Florida
  9. McAllen, Texas
  10. Olathe, Kansas

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Rockford region among 100 fastest growing in real personal income

ROCKFORD – The real personal per capita income of the Rockford metropolitan area grew 4.4 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, rising at a faster rate than Illinois and United States as a whole.

Real personal income is a more complicated measurement from the BEA. It measures the real personal income of an area and adjusts it to the state’s regional price parity and national personal consumption index. In simpler terms, it’s the income of an individual or group after taking into consideration the effects of inflation on purchasing power.

According to BEA data, the real personal per capita income of Boone and Winnebago counties rose from $38,485 in 2014 to $40,183 in 2015. The 4.4 percent increase from 2014 was greater than the 3.3 percent increase experienced by the United States (growing from $42,523 to $43,925) and the 3.4 percent by the state of Illinois ($44,679 to $46,209.)

In fact, the Rockford MSA tied for 80th best year-over-year increase out of 382 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. and it was the 13th highest in the Midwest.

The 2015 numbers are a continuation of an encouraging trend. Since 2008, the Rockford MSA real personal per capita income has outpaced the nation as a whole four times in the past seven years.

A look at state data showed that the Rockford MSA gained about 2,200 jobs from 2014 to 2015. The largest gains were in leisure and hospitality (600 jobs gained), trade and utilities (600), retail trade (500) and manufacturing (400).

Real personal per capita income

Year

U.S.

Pct. ch.

Illinois

Pct. ch.

Rockford MSA

Pct. ch.

2008

$41,055

$43,385

$36,996

2009

$39,376

-4.1%

$40,744

-6.1%

$35,819

-3.2%

2010

$39,622

0.6%

$40,743

0.0%

$36,179

1.0%

2011

$40,762

2.9%

$41,609

2.1%

$36,634

1.3%

2012

$41,714

2.3%

$42,816

2.9%

$37,351

2.0%

2013

$41,348

-0.9%

$43,572

1.8%

$37,540

0.5%

2014

$42,523

2.8%

$44,679

2.5%

$38,485

2.5%

2015

$43,925

3.3%

$46,209

3.4%

$40,183

4.4%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Fastest rising real personal per capita incomes
in Midwestern MSAs

Metropolitan Area

2014

2015

Pct. ch.

Sioux Falls, S.D.

$49,899

$53,360

6.9%

Flint, Michigan

$34,699

$36,723

5.8%

Lawrence, Kansas

$36,035

$38,085

5.7%

Sioux City, Iowa-Neb.

$45,638

$48,093

5.4%

South Bend, Ind.-Mich.

$41,299

$43,51

5.4%

Monroe, Michigan

$38,407

$40,444

5.3%

Michigan City-LaPorte, Ind.

$38,592

$40,553

5.1%

Mankato, Minnesota

$42,743

$44,891

5.0%

Detroit, Michigan

$42,456

$44,547

4.9%

Muskegon, Michigan

$34,424

$36,103

4.9%

Bay City, Michigan

$37,434

$39,214

4.8%

Battle Creek, Michigan

$35,552

$37,204

4.6%

Rockford, Illinois

$38,485

$40,183

4.4%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

 

 


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Jobs boom missing Rockford area

SPRINGFIELD – The United States has been on a steady climb since the Great Recession wiped out careers and savings for millions – that progress still hasn’t really come to Rockford.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States has added 15.8 million jobs since April 2010, the most recent comparable month, growing from 130.14 million jobs in April 2010 to a preliminary estimate of 146 million this April. That’s 12.2 percent more jobs since the economy bottomed out in 2010.

In Winnebago County, we were making similar progress, but that trend has reversed itself over the past several months. The Rockford area bottomed out earlier than the United States. According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, employment hit the bottom of the Great Recession cycle in 2009 when just 124,425 were employed in April. By April 2016, that had grown to 132,027, an increase of 6.1 percent.

It appears we’ve lost those minimal gains. The state estimated that total employment for this April was 129,778, a 1.7 percent year-over-year decline.

It isn’t just Winnebago County that’s struggling to continue to grow jobs. Employment in the state as a whole was estimated to be 6.14 million, down 0.3 percent from 2016. It marked the fifth time in the past six months that employment in Illinois was down year over year.

Hopefully, the 2017 losses are temporary. Workers at the Fiat-Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere have been laid off for several months as the plant is retooled to build the Jeep Cherokee. The vast majority of the workers in the Boone County plant live in Winnebago County.

Job gains – U.S., Illinois, Winnebago County

 

United States

Illinois

Winnebago County

Month, year

Emp.

Pct. ch.

Emp.

Pct. ch.

Emp.

Pct. ch.

April, 2007

137.9M

6.28M

139,623

April, 2008

138.1M

0.1%

6.31M

0.4%

138,216

-1.0%

April, 2009

131.8M

-4.5%

5.98M

-5.2%

124,425

-10.0%

April, 2010

130.1M

-1.2%

5.96M

-0.3%

128,886

3.6%

April, 2011

131.6M

1.2%

5.94M

-0.3%

130,610

1.3%

April, 2012

133.8M

1.7%

5.97M

0.5%

129,790

-0.6%

April, 2013

135.9M

1.5%

5.95M

-0.5%

127,767

-1.6%

April, 2014

138.3M

1.8%

6.03M

1.3%

129,637

1.5%

April, 2015

141.2M

2.1%

6.11M

1.4%

131,275

1.3%

April, 2016

143.8M

1.9%

6.16M

0.8%

132,027

0.6%

April, 2017

146.0M

1.5%

6.14M

-0.3%

129,778

-1.7%

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics for the United
States. Illinois Department of Employment Security
for Illinois and Winnebago County

 

 


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Property owners don’t mind taxes – as long as they are getting value

Of all the issues facing Rockford, property taxes is perhaps the most complex.

According to tax-rates.org, the median property tax bill in Winnebago County is $3,056 per year, which ranks the county as the 151st highest taxed county out of the 3,143 in the United States. Obviously, that’s not good.

But a low tax bill does not always equate to a more desirable place to live. People are willing to pay higher taxes if they believe they are getting value for their money. I looked at the Livability.com list of 100 best mid-size communities to live list and found the median property taxes paid of the counties of the top 25 cities. Nearly half, 12 to be exact, had a higher median property tax bill.

Count (city), median property tax bill

  1. Santa Clara County (Palo Alto, Calif.), $4,694
  2. Arlington County (Arlington, Virginia), $4,564
  3. Middlesex County (Newton, Mass.), $4,356
  4. Howard County (Columbia, Maryland), $4,261
  5. Dane County (Madison, Wis.), $4,149
  6. Chittendon County (Burlington, Vermont), $4,096
  7. Alameda County (Pleasonton, Calif.), $3,993
  8. Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor, Mich.), $3,913
  9. Tompkins County (Ithaca, New York), $3,815
  10. Montgomery County (Rockville, Maryland), $3,690
  11. King County (Bellevue, Washington), $3,572
  12. Frederick County (Frederick, Maryland), $3,082

In fact, there were just five on the Livability list that could truly be considered low tax areas, those with median property tax bills below $2,000 – Riley County, Kansas; Olmstead County, Minnesota; Williamson County, Tennessee, Wake County, North Carolina and Larimer County, Colorado.

Ironically, two major public companies that got started in Rockford and grew to be billion dollar operations moved their headquarters from Winnebago County to two of those counties with lower tax burdens.

Of course, most of the communities on the Livability top 100 list are high-income towns. That’s part of the reason they are on the list in the first place. Still, three counties considered to be among the top 25 mid-sized cities to live have a higher property tax bill to income ranking:

County (City), median property tax bill, tax bill as percent of income

  1. Tompkins County (Ithaca, New York), $3,815, 5.30%
  2. Chittendon County (Burlington, Vermont), $4,096, 5.25%
  3. Dan County (Madison, Wisconsin), $4,149, 5.06%

Winnebago County’s median property tax bill as a percent of income was 4.99%.

It’s when you look at Winnebago County’s property tax bill as a percent of the median fair market value of a home here then we truly stand out … in a bad way. Every single county in the top 25 paid a lower percentage of their median fair market home value.

County (City), median property tax bill, median fair market value – percentage of FMV.

  1. Williamson County (Franklin, Tenn.), $1,879, $335,800 – 0.56%
  2. Albermarle County (Charlottesville, Va.), $2,219, $349,800 – 0.63%
  3. Larimer County (Fort Collins, Colo.), $1,570, $246,000 – 0.64%
  4. Santa Clara County (Palo Alto, Calif.), $4,694, $701,000 – 0.67%
  5. Alameda County (Pleasanton, Calif.), $3,993, $590,900 – 0.68%
  6. Montgomery County (Rockville, Maryland), $3,690, $482,900 – 0.76%
  7. Arlington County (Arlington, Virginia), $4,564, $571,700 – 0.80%
  8. Wake County (Cary, North Carolina), $1,793, $222,300 – 0.81%
  9. King County (Bellevue, Washington), $3,572, $407,700 – 0.88%
  10. Frederick County (Frederick, Maryland), $3,082, $349,500 – 0.88%
  11. Hoaward County (Columbia, Maryland), $4,261, $456,200 – 0.93%
  12. Thurston County (Olympia, Washington), $2,472, $257,800 – 0.96%
  13. Middlesex County (Newton, Mass.), $4,356, $420,800 – 1.04%
  14. Olmstead County (Rochester, Minn.), $1,891, $174,000 – 1.09%
  15. Cumberland County (Portland, Maine), $2,973, $248,400 – 1.20%
  16. Riley County (Manhatten, Kansas), $1,903, $154,800 – 1.23%
  17. Johnson County (Overland Park, Kansas), $2,664, $209,900 – 1.27%
  18. Story County (Ames, Iowa), $2,076, $156,000 – 1.33%
  19. Johnson County (Iowa City, Iowa), $2,526, $177,000 – 1.43%
  20. Burleigh County (Bismarck, N.D.), $2,385, $152,900 – 1.56%
  21. Chittendon County, Burlington, $4,096, $254,700 – 1.61%
  22. Dane County (Madison, Wis.), $4,149, $230,800 – 1.80%
  23. Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor, Mich.), $3,913, $216,200 – 1.81%
  24. Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), $2,553, $115,200 – 2.22%
  25. Tompkins County (Ithaca, New York), $3,815, $162,100 – 2.35%

Winnebago County’s median fair market value, according to tax-rates.org, was $128,100, which means homeowners are paying 2.39% of their fair market value in taxes.

The Rockford area’s bizarre tax burden has no easy fix. If taxing bodies actually worked together to vastly lower the amounts they asked from tax payers it could shoot our unemployment rate higher.  In 1980, just four of our top 20 employers were public taxing bodies. Eight of the top 10 were manufacturing companies – Chrysler, Sundstrand, Barber-Colman, Atwood Industries, Ingersoll Milling Machine, Textron Inc. and Warner-Lambert Co.

Today, six of the top 20 are taxing bodies – Rockford School District, Winnebago County, Rockford Park District, City of Rockford, Harlem School District and Belvidere School District.

The only real long-term solution is to continue to push taxing bodies to be more efficient with the dollars they receive and to turn around all of the areas that keep our property values down – crime, jobs, infrastructure, education – to at least give homeowners more value for those property tax dollars spent.


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Want to live longer? Grow the economy

A groundbreaking study released earlier this month showed income inequality leads to life expectancy inequality.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, as of 2014 there was a gap of 20.1 years between the counties with the shortest and longest typical life spans based on life expectancy at birth.

Researchers analyzed birth and death records from every U.S. county between 1980 and 2014.

Winnebago County was in the higher ranges of life expectancy throughout the time period studied. As of 2014, the life expectancy of someone born in Winnebago County was 77.95 years. The highest expectacy was 87.36 years and the lowest was 66.92.

What was fascinating though is the fact that Winnebago County’s life expectancy has followed its economic fortunes. As manufacturing in the U.S. was squeezed by globalization, incomes here have not kept pace.

  • In 1979, the per capita personal income of someone in the Rockford area was $9,643 compared with $9,616 of the typical person in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  • In 1980, the U.S. per capital personal income passed Winnebago County, $10,633 to $10,287.
  • As late as 1995, Winnebago County residents were still making about 95 percent of what a typical U.S. person was earning. The Winnebago County per capita income was $23,467 in 1995 compared with $24,604.
  • As of 2013 though, people in Winnebago County were earning 81 percent of what the U.S. makes. The per capita personal income of someone in Winnebago County was $37,505 compared with the U.S. per capita personal income of $46,177.

Health care, as everyone knows, is an expensive business. As our incomes have slipped so has our life expectancy when compared with the rest of the country.

  • In 1980, the life expectancy of someone born in Winnebago County was 74.12 years. In the U.S. the life expectancy was 73.75 years.
  • Winnebago County had a higher life expectancy than the U.S. as a whole every year until 1998. That year, the U.S. life expectancy reached 76.84 years while the Winnebago County life expectancy was at 76.71.
  • The gap has only continued to grow. In 2014, the life expectancy of someone born in Winnebago County was 77.95 years. In the U.S., it is up to 79.08 years.

So there’s yet another reason we need to Transform Rockford’s economy so that it surpasses the growth rate of the U.S. It will help us live longer.

Click here to see an interactive map so you can check out the data for yourself.


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Winnebago County rankings improve – very slightly

The health of Winnebago County’s residents improved compared with the rest of the state in 2016 – by the slightest of margins.

According to the Robert Wood Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, Winnebago County’s overall health ranked 87 out of the 102 counties in the state in its 2017 rankings. That’s not good, but it is better than the 2016 ranking (based on 2015 figures) of 88.

The rankings were released this week and in some cases, we are making progress:

  • The percentage of adults who smoke was just 17 percent in 2016, down from a high of 25 percent in 2012.
  • The number of teen births out of 1,000 dropped to 40. That’s down from 52 in 2012.
  • Our uninsured percentage in 2016 fell to 11 percent, down from 15 percent in 2014.
  • The county unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in 2016, down from 15.2 percent in 2012 (having a job means better health).
  • The child poverty rate ticked down to 23 percent, down from 28 percent in 2013.

Those are the positives. The negatives?

  • The obesity rate in 2016 ticked up to 34 percent, its highest level yet. It started at 28 percent in 2011.
  • The percentage of people who say they are physically inactive remained at 27 percent in 2016. It hasn’t moved much upward or downward even with increasing awareness paid to the subject.
  • In 2016, 19 percent said they drink excessively. This ties the high since the surveys started in 2011. Still, that’s two percentage points below the state level of 21 percent.
  • The violent crime rate of 832 per 10,000 people in 2016 was the lowest since 2012, but still nearly twice the state average.
  • In 2016, 17 percent still reported severe housing problems. That has ticked upward even in the improving economy.

Overall, a mixed bag and a long ways away from healthy communities. The top ranked county in Illinois was Monroe County, south of St. Louis.

In Monroe County:

  • 13 percent of adults smoke.
  • 6 percent are uninsured.
  • The unemployment rate was 4.4 percent.
  • Only 6 percent of children live in poverty.
  • Only 9 percent reported severe housing problems.
  • Only 42 people out of 10,000 were victims of violent crime.

Those are all good numbers. Monroe’s ranking though shows how deep the obesity epidemic runs. Even in Monroe County, supposedly the healthiest county in Illinois, the obesity rate was 33 percent.