Monday, March 31, 2014

Two maps that say a lot about Wisconsin

A couple of interesting reports came out recently regarding Wisconsin counties in two huge categories- population and health. Looking at both can tell quite a bit about where this state is at, and the variations among the different counties, as it gives a pretty clear indication of which areas are on the way up, and which are on the way down.

The first goes off the Census Bureau's recent update of population figures for 2013, which has now drilled down to the county level. The Journal-Sentinel went over these new figures, particularly the change in population since the 2010 Census, and noted a striking pattern. First, we'll give you the map that they generated from this data.

In all, 40 of Wisconsin's 72 counties lost population, and as the map shows, the counties losing were in the northern half of the state. Here's a little more detail that the Journal-Sentinel had on the declines in Wisconsin's rural counties.
Only two counties with more than 100,000 people — Racine and Sheboygan — lost people since 2010. Rusk and Price counties shrank by the largest percentage, both by about 2.2%. Wood County lost the greatest number of people at 821.

Still, the growth in some of the larger counties counterbalanced the modest declines in rural Wisconsin. Overall, the state's population increased by 53,653, or less than 1%, to 5,742,713.

"We've been seeing some declines in the counties and small gains in the metro areas," said David Egan-Roberston, a demographer with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Applied Population Laboratory.

"It's been true since the start of the Great Recession."
Egan-Robertson also notes that a lot of younger people are moving from small towns into the bigger metro areas in Wisconsin and the neighboring states (note that Saint Croix County keeps growing as the county closest to the Twin Cities), and retirees are not flocking to smaller towns the way they did in the 2000s. Brain drain isn't just a problem from state-to-state, but from county-to-county in Wisconsin, and combined with the cuts to public education that are leading numerous rural Wisconsin school districts to have referenda tomorrow in an attempt stay afloat, and small-town Wisconsin is really getting squeezed out.

And you can't help but notice who's growing faster than anywhere else- that's right, us hippies in Dane County, who had more than 20,000 more people join our little commune in the last 3 years, bringing our population over 500,000. Milwaukee County also added people (mostly through immigration), and their increase was more than the Baggerlanders in Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee Counties combined. Gee, no wonder why the 262 Republicans want to restrict the vote in the 2 largest cities in Wisconsin- because the bright-blue areas of Dane and Milwaukee Counties are gaining population a whole lot more than their red-voting communities are. But what's also growing is the Green Bay area and the Fox Cities, which might the area that counterbalances the increases in Madison and Milwaukee- or it might be the light pink area that swings blue in coming years (as it did in 2008 and to a lesser extent 2012), which would be a significant game-changer in Wisconsin elections.

On a non-political level, it illustrates that urban areas are the ones where people are choosing to live and find opportunities, telling me that more than ever, communities need to forment an atmosphere that encourages high-quality work and invest in a high quality of life, as businesses and people will go to the communities that deliver, and leave the dead-end ones who won't.

The other interesting map comes from a recently-released study from the UW's School of Population Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who produced the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. This study gave a scorecard of health factors and outcomes across Wisconsin, and the factors include items such as:

Amount of healthy and non-healthy behaviors practiced
Access and quality of health care
Social and economic factors, including income, unemployment and education
Clean water, access to healthy food, and other environmental factors

As this map shows, there are clear contrasts among the various parts of the state, especially in Southeastern Wisconsin. The places with the most positive health factors are in white, and the worst are in the darkest blue.

Look at that contrast in Southeastern Wisconsin, where Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee Counties are in the top tier of pro-health factors (all are actually in the top 5), and Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha are in the bottom tier. Think income levels and healthier outcomes aren't related? Also notice that the faster-growing counties of Dane, Brown, Outagamie, Winnebago and St. Croix are all in white, as members of the top tier of health factors.

This is why it's especially disgusting to hear millionaires like Paul Ryan's ridiculous takes on poverty and to see the Waterford School District opt out of the federal school lunch program, claiming that they don't want to comply with federal rules that require healthier meals (FREEEEE-DUMMMM!). Yes, why would we want any kind of help for students and others who already are at a health disadvantage due to their lack of income? One look at that map should show why that's an idiotic mentality...and why so many in the 262 subscribe to it, because these sheltered fools don't have the health and food security concerns that poorer people do, and lack the empathy to realize why a lack of that security makes a big difference in life outcomes.

Also note the huge amount of northern Wisconsin counties in dark blue, and compare it to the counties in red on the population map. Out of the 10 counties that had the highest percentage loss of population between 2010-2013, 5 were in the lowest tier for health factors, and 8 of the 10 were in the bottom half. Kind of hard to attract people to live in your community when the health care is less available or affordable, incomes and education levels are stagnating if not declining, and the overall environment is declining.

These two maps seem to indicate that many small-town places in Wisconsin could be drying up, losing some of its more productive members to better opportunities in bigger places, or better services and quality of life. As a result, they may not stay as the community-oriented places we used to revere- but instead they'd resemble many places in the South and Appalachia that are more like the deserted Third World than something we usually associate with America.

This is a real concern that should be sounded far and wide in small-town Wisconsin, because a second term of Scott Walker would likely compound these difficulties over fixing them. Those policies would continue to favor the wealthy constituents in the Republican-voting suburbs of Milwaukee, and lead to economic stagnation and backwardness in much of the rest of the state that encourages many of the best and brightest in small-town Wisconsin to pick up and head to the bigger cities....or out of the state entirely.

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