St. Clair County is one of the unhealthiest counties in Illinois, ranking 91st out of 102. That is especially sobering when you compare it to neighboring Madison County, which ranked 70th with a nearly identical population and similar demographics.
Median household income is $50,000 in St. Clair County and $4,500 higher in Madison. They are about 2 percentage points apart in poverty, with St. Clair County higher at 15.4 percent. They are within seven-tenths of a percentage point for those with no health insurance, at 6.3 percent in St. Clair County.
So there may not be a lot to separate 70th from 91st, but that also may mean that incremental improvements can be significant.
Improving socioeconomic factors are what will improve a community's health, according to Mark Peters, a director with the St. Clair County Health Department.
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"When you think about our health, about 40 percent is driven by where you live, by your education, by other socioeconomic factors," Peters said. "About 30 percent is your behaviors, 10 to 20 percent by access to clinical care, and about 15 percent environmental, plus or minus about 5 percent."
How do you improve all that?
You provide a solid education. But then there need to be solid jobs within the community. Earnings will build stable families that boost children's educations.
It's a healthy cycle. It's how things are supposed to work compared to the vicious cycle of unemployment and family disintegration that leaves children without proper nutrition, health care and homework help.
And what is the great weakness? Jobs.
City, county and state leaders should have a laser focus on creating decent jobs rather than on creating new taxes and supporting airports and in keeping public employees wealthy in their old age.
Our priorities are, well, just not healthy.