Health and human care agencies must continually assess and understand the needs of the people they serve. They must work together with businesses, labor, government and other nonprofit organizations to identify and develop strategies that will improve the quality of life for people in central Illinois.
The Heart of Illinois United Way’s 2011 Peoria Area Community Assessment, conducted by Dr. Larry Weinzimmer at Bradley University, focuses on the social service issues and trends impacting central Illinois and create a picture of where we need to focus our efforts:
Education is the cornerstone of individual and community success. Third-grade reading performance and eighth-grade math performance are essential to analyzing a child’s ability to succeed academically. More than 15 percent of schools in the Peoria area are at or below the state average for third-grade reading, and more than 46 percent are at or below the state average for eighth-grade math. Six local high school districts have graduation rates that are at or below the state average. More than 40 percent of school districts throughout central Illinois have 33 percent or more of their students living in the low-income bracket.
Hard-working families face income-related obstacles that prevent them from maintaining stable home lives. The median income for our region is approximately $4,000 less than the state average, and there is a disparity related to ethnicity. Black residents have a median income that is 44 percent less than the white population and 28 percent less than the Hispanic population. Poverty continues to affect children at higher rates than adults with an increase of 4.7 percent since 2006. Single moms living in poverty outnumber married parents living in poverty by a ratio of almost eight to one. Overall, more than 50,000 people in central Illinois live in poverty, an increase of 7,700 between 2006 and 2009.
Access to affordable and quality healthcare is vital to our community. Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in central Illinois, which can be linked to the fact that 30 percent of residents have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or obesity. The percentage of people without insurance continues to rise, and fewer people are visiting the dentist and doctor due to costs. While cases of sexually transmitted infections are starting to decline, the Peoria County rate is still higher than the state average. Substance abuse begins on average at the age of 11, and area high school students perceive alcohol and marijuana use has significantly less risk when compared to tobacco.
The 2011 Peoria Area Community Assessment puts these critical needs into perspective and helps us focus on where we can make a difference. After all, community-wide change begins by helping one person at a time. For the complete assessment, visit hoiunitedway.org. iBi