How do suburban counties respond to climbing poverty rates that have begun to surpass those of the nearby cities? How can human services providers best serve a population that is rapidly aging and becoming more diverse at the same time?
These are the challenges explored in a series of six community conversations hosted by The Lake County Community Foundation throughout the fall.
Data show Lake County population growing older, more diverse, w/poverty rates now higher than Cook Co.
Demographer Rob Paral presented data from a series of reports the Foundation released in 2012, which revealed a broad population shift in Lake County.
“Like many places in the U.S., the largest percentage growth in Lake County is actually Asians, though in raw numbers [we see that] Latinos have added 50,000 people in the last ten years,” Paral explained. “These are significant shifts with implications for human services in understanding the communities we work with and for staff who represent those communities.”
Lake County is also now home to “as many people in their sixties as there are children under ten, which has never been the case before,” noted Paral.
This population profile presents “a great challenge to create a link between the young and the old. Each needs the other very much. The older residents need a strong, vibrant young population to be productive, and the younger people need the older group to make some good choices right now, since they are the voters.”
The suburbanization of poverty also affects Lake County. Executive director Jon Teeuwissen explained at one Thursday morning session, “Awareness is one of the top issues. It’s a recent thing: There’s actually a slightly higher percentage of poverty in Lake County than there is in Cook County.”
“One of the biggest obstacles in getting more resources to address needs in Lake County,” said Teeuwissen, is “getting people to realize that there is a need.”
Unprecedented Change Brings New Collaboration
Several attendees were surprised by the scarcity of information on the growing needs and available resources for elder care. As Teeuwissen explained, “The study is actually about four years old. There’s nothing in there about senior citizens, because at the time that Rob [Paral] did the 2012 portraits, seniors weren’t as much of a pressing issue”—a dramatic example of just how quickly Lake County is changing.
According to demographer Rob Paral, Lake County’s aging population has resulted in “a strange profile now, with as many people in their 60s as there are children under 10, which has never been the case before.” Reports on the social service needs of Lake County created just three years ago contained no special focus on elder care, as the growth in the senior population was not yet noteworthy.
In this changing landscape, human services agencies cannot go it alone. During breakout sessions, there was a prevailing sense that collaboration is the key to successful programs.
As Teeuwissen observed, “Conversations like these are important, because they’re the beginning of something.” In order for The Lake County Community Foundation to serve its mission of improving the quality of life for the most vulnerable residents of the county, the Foundation needs to help donors and civic leaders understand the most pressing emerging needs—and identify the most promising solutions.
Michelle Crombie, vice president of community impact at United Way Lake County, explained the shift in her organization’s approach. “I’ve seen United Way go from ‘We raise money and we give it away’ to figuring out how to work in the community so we can make sure we pool our resources, and where there is a need, [to] match them together.”
“I see working together as the key to everything right now, because everybody is doing way more than they ever thought that they would be.”