Checking the community’s ‘Vital Signs’
Reviewing a report on Marshfield’s civic, economic, and social health
By Amber Kiggens-Leifheit
Marshfield Area Community Foundation
MARSHFIELD — “Vital Signs” is a collaboration between the Marshfield Area Community Foundation, Marshfield Area United Way, and the city of Marshfield. It represents our joint interest in and commitment to understanding our community’s well-being across a series of civic, economic, and social indicators affecting the quality of life in our community. Much like going to a health care provider for a yearly checkup, the “Vital Signs” report points to areas where our community is doing well and those we might change in order to become a healthier community.
We have looked at data over the past decade on population, new home and nonresidential starts, home values, number of foreclosures, unemployment, income, number of students receiving free or reduced hot lunches, the percent of children living in families in poverty, the number of individuals receiving economic assistance, Nutrition On Weekends (NOW), and youth mental health data. We chose these parameters because they are important and solid, objective data.
From 2010-2013, the population in the Marshfield School District held steady at about 27,600. During that same time period, the Wood County population declined from 74,793 to 74,499.
New home construction has remained constant over the past five years, averaging about 11 new homes built within Marshfield city limits each year. Average sale prices of single family homes fell sharply after the recession in 2008 from $141,122 to a low of $111,870 in 2012. Average home sale prices have now returned to $123,591, where they were pre-recession in 2005.
Educational attainment for the population of people 25 years or older in the city of Marshfield remained rather consistent from 2009-2013. On average 11 percent of this demographic does not have a high school diploma; 33 percent has a high school level education; and 26 percent of this age population has a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.
The gap between median household income for the city of Marshfield compared to Wisconsin and Wood County is widening. The median household income in Marshfield fell 4 percent from 2009-2013. Conversely, Wood County median household income has increased 7.5 percent over the same time period.
The number of public assistance income recipients in Marshfield increased by 70 percent from 2009-2013. Additionally, the average W-2 caseload in Wood County has increased by 56 percent in the past five years. The number of FoodShare recipients in Wood County has increased by 43 percent since 2010. The free and reduced meal participation rate for the Marshfield School District has increased by nearly 6 percent over the same time period. Also worth noting, food pantries have been one of the top two referrals United Way’s 211 program has made to residents in the Marshfield area since 2012.
The Marshfield School District, historically, has a lower percentage of children ages 5-17 in families in poverty compared to national, state, and county levels. Though Marshfield has had a lower percentage of children in poverty, the rate at which the number of children in poverty in Marshfield has grown in the past decade has been at a faster rate than all others (National rate: +29.2 percent, State: +64.7 percent, Wood: +78.3 percent, Marshfield: +91.0 percent).
The NOW program is a collaborative, community effort to target childhood hunger. The program was created in response to data collected from eighth, 10th, and 12th grade students in the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Over 20 percent of students surveyed indicated they had gone to bed hungry at least once in the past 30 days because there was not enough food in the home. The program, which started in October 2013, provides healthy, easy-to-prepare nutritional foods for children during the weekend. In the past year, the NOW program has expanded at a rapid rate, going from serving 113 students in two school districts to now serving nearly 300 students in four school districts.
We used the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey to look at youth mental health. This anonymous and optional survey was given to middle and high school students at both Marshfield public and private schools. Topics the survey covered included alcohol and drug use, violence-related behavior, bullying, distracted driving, mental health, hunger, and healthy lifestyle behaviors. According to the data from the survey, 20 percent of children in our community have been affected by having feelings of sadness/hopelessness; an alarming amount, 13 percent, have considered attempting suicide; and about 6 percent have actually attempted suicide.
We should be proud that our community has stepped forward to help address the increase in children living in poverty. Programs like NOW and Keep Kids Warm are helping. The community has come together to help make sure children have food to eat and a warm coat in our winter months. This summer United Way is providing boxes with fixings for a week of meals for NOW participants. Youth Net provides lunches at their location for students who qualify. It is good to know that even though school is not is session, our community has new ways to ensure all children continue to have meals.
This data is critical in making informed decisions regarding the best ways to identify and address problems with increasingly scarce resources. We hope that our area’s decision makers and groups use this data to make informed decisions about using those scarce resources and that “Vital Signs” will help. We live in a very generous community and are sure that Marshfield’s “Vital Signs” will continue to improve as we make the needed changes in our community just as we would do to improve our own health.