ROCKFORD -- Within the walls of RMAP -- data is being collected and analyzed -- for local officials to use. And while some believe much of what RMAP produces in its latest report 'Vital Signs' is useless to policy makers, the report does provide insight into the causes of Rockford's rapid decline. The Transform Rockford movement used RMAP's data to discuss the 'brutal facts' confronting Rockford, and Alderman Dr. Tim Durkee has a lot of confidence in RMAP's data as well. "You have to acknowledge the strength of the data RMAP does generate," he tells Eyewitness News.
Data which reveals that over the past 40 years, Rockford transformed itself from a city where wealth has gone from 2.2 percent above the national average to a shocking 19.5% below it. And when you look at the major factors driving those numbers -- unemployment -- crime -- poor schools -- they all share one common bond -- Poverty!
Rockford's crime problem is both the result of poverty and a cause of it, the report saying Rockford's "... high propensity for crime is one of the factors affecting the region's ability to attract jobs, retain quality businesses, and severly affects the quality of life for many residents." RMAP researchers found that "Of School District 205 parents only 35% of respondents felt safe walking ..." and that because of real crime or the perception of crime, each Rockford taxpayer pays a much higher amount on police compared to their neighbors, leading to higher taxes.
The report does offer suggestions to combat crime including the removal of blighted properties that pose public safety risks, better policing in higher crime housing projects, and recommends Rockford reverse course on removing streetlights, putting them back to help neighborhoods feel safer.
The report shows that poor schools in Rockford are also taking their toll. It found that, "Only 66% of low-income students in RPS 205 are graduating; while in other school districts in the region they have a much higher graduation rate at 84%." But RMAP President Steve Ernst says Rockford schools are struggling not because they are worse than neighboring districts, but because their students are more impoverished. "All of the social metrics." he says, "eventually are rooted in the problems of education. And that's really the focus whether that's the constant of having to deal with crime, the constant battle of where food is going to come from, and the constant battle of trying to find a job that can keep a decent dwelling over your head that the stress that is created by having to deal with all those issues eventually plays out in the performance of the child. "
Students in turn drop out, leading to chronic unemployment, and more poverty, a chronic cycle of impoverishment.
Pull it all together, and the RMAP report spells out Rockford's poverty problem -- which their data shows has grown in part because the city's vast network of public aid and non-profits attract more poor people.
"We need to stop importing problems." Ernst says. "There is evidence in the report that we have a situation here locally where we do a really good job of providing that assistance, and so many people have used tools, and the one program I can think of is vouchers for housing ... that they can use those vouchers here because we have good programs and good resource agencies to help them. I don't want to get rid of those agencies, but I would just like to make sure that we're not importing poverty."
To see the full report as a PDF file, click on this link: http://www.ourvitalsigns.com/RPSD.pdf