Assessing Community Needs

by Michael Stephan, Heart of Illinois United Way

As a community, we must invest our resources efficiently and in a way that will lead to long-term, positive change. The opportunity to understand and analyze our community’s education, income and health needs is what drives the Heart of Illinois United Way and our partner agencies to be the leaders in evaluating and addressing critical health and human care issues throughout central Illinois.

The Heart of Illinois United Way’s 2014 Peoria Area Community Assessment, conducted by Dr. Larry Weinzimmer at Bradley University and produced by Central Illinois Business Publishers, is a vital resource that helps our United Way prioritize community needs, identify collaborative opportunities and highlight the issues impacting the counties we serve.

The numbers, statistics and facts within the assessment create a picture of where we need to focus our efforts. Education is the cornerstone of individual and community success. Hard-working families face income-related obstacles that prevent them from maintaining financial stability. And, whether it is someone without enough health insurance coverage or someone struggling with a chronic illness, access to affordable and quality healthcare is vital to our community. Highlights from the 2014 Peoria Area Community Assessment in the areas of education, income and health include:

Education Trends
Third-grade reading and eighth-grade math scores are benchmarks in analyzing a child’s ability to succeed academically. More than 25 percent of area schools are below the state average for third-grade reading scores, while more than half are below average for eighth-grade math. These figures—considered reliable predictors of educational success—have declined since 2010. Regional high school graduation rates are generally above the state average, but eight local districts are below average. There are 24 area school districts with more than one third of its students in the low-income bracket—a 33-percent increase since 2010. While the Peoria region has a slightly greater percentage of residents with high school degrees compared to the State of Illinois, there are fewer residents in the region with college degrees.

Income Trends
While the gap between the lower and upper economic classes is widening in the Peoria area, the region’s median income has increased since 2009, but still lags behind the state average. In 2011 and 2012, unemployment rates in the Peoria region fell below both state and national rates, before jumping significantly in 2013. Poverty rates increased for all types of households in the Peoria region from 2009 to 2012. Poverty rates are higher in households with children under 18, and increasing among those over the age of 65. Single-parent families are much more likely to be affected by poverty than two-parent households.

Health Trends
Access to affordable and quality healthcare is vital to keeping our community healthy. More than 13 percent of the region’s population does not visit a doctor when needed due to cost. Visits for regular checkups and flu shots have also declined, although both remain higher than the state average. More than one third of the region’s population is considered obese—far higher than the state average—with rates of obesity and diabetes increasing across the region.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to be a significant problem, especially in Peoria County, where infection rates are far higher than the state average. The overall rate of teen births in both the Peoria region and the state is declining, while substance use in the region is lower than the state average in most areas.

As the largest non-governmental funder of local health and human care programs, the 2014 Peoria Area Community Assessment puts the critical needs of central Illinois into perspective and helps us, as a community, invest in programs and initiatives that produce tangible results that positively impact lives. For the complete 2014 Peoria Area Community Assessment, visit hoiunitedway.org. iBi

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