MACOMB, Ill.With tax day past, it makes sense to reflect on whether taxes go toward public services and community facilities we expect. The 2005 Illinois Rural Life Poll asked rural Illinois residents about their satisfaction with the availability, cost, and quality of services. Responses about housing, transportation, medical care, mental health services, and the responsiveness of state agencies to local requests were mixed, but generally positive including the following:
almost 15 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with housing;
42 percent were dissatisfied with public transit and transportation, including 23 percent who were very dissatisfied;
27 percent were dissatisfied with basic medical care;
26 percent indicated dissatisfaction with mental health services; and
more than 40 percent were dissatisfied with the responsiveness of state agencies to local requests.
Households with incomes less than $20,000 were very dissatisfied with housing; those with incomes more than $80,000 were somewhat dissatisfied. Younger respondents were more likely to be very dissatisfied with basic medical care. However, community size was a more important predictor of satisfaction. Respondents from larger communities were more likely to be dissatisfied with housing and health services; respondents in the smallest communities were more neutral.
Dissatisfaction levels mask nuances among responses. Although overall satisfaction with housing was high, almost 20 percent of respondents reported their monthly housing costs caused them to put off health or medical care. Residents reporting satisfaction with housing, medical, and mental health services also reported satisfaction with the responsiveness of state agencies. This suggests that, when the state does respond to local requests, people are satisfied with the services. Also, those who believed their communities were improving reported more satisfaction with state response to local needs.
Housing costs caused a number of respondents to delay health care, including the following:
households with incomes less than $30,000; they also were more likely to report poor health;
respondents without a high school diploma;
those with some college, but not a four-year degree; and
residents younger than 44; they also were more likely to report they lacked a primary care provider and that the cost of medical services prevented them from seeking medical care.
Sixty percent of those from larger rural communities (30,000 to 49,999 population) were more satisfied with public transit/transportation. But they were more likely to be dissatisfied with senior centers and services (21 percent) and basic medical care (31 percent). Residents of communities with populations of 1,000 to 4,999 were very dissatisfied with mental health services.
Community leaders should remember that many younger respondents experienced competing financial demands and were less likely to qualify for public programs. Respondents from larger rural communities were dissatisfied with a number of aspects of their communities. Is this because they had higher expectations, or were they dissatisfied with local service providers? Moving from a smaller to a larger rural community may not be the answer to achieving satisfaction with services.
For more information about the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, visit www.IIRA.org. If you care to comment about this column, contact Timothy Collins, 800-526-9943 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the May 24-30, 2006, issue