After discovering that Evanston spends 27 percent more than Arlington Heights and 60 percent more than Skokie to deliver a similar bundle of municipal services, Evanston Now took a look at demographic data about each town in a search for explanations about the variation.
Some suggest that Evanston must spend more on social services and perhaps on police protection because it’s assumed to have a far larger population of poor people than other suburbs.
In fact, Evanston does have more poverty than Arlington Heights, but roughly the same amount as Skokie.
The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey shows 5.4 percent of families in poverty in Evanston, 3.7 percent in Arlington Heights and 7 percent in Skokie. All three towns are below the national family poverty average of 9.8 percent.
Looking at individuals living in poverty, the survey reports 11.2 percent in Evanston, 4.5 percent in Arlington Heights and 10.4 percent in Skokie, compared to a national average of 13.3 percent.
Another explanation might be that people are richer in Evanston and have more money to spend on government services. Depending on which numbers you look at, the data could be read to support that theory.
Median household income is lower in Evanston than the other two towns, but per capita income is higher. That seeming paradox is explained by the typically smaller size of households and families in Evanston.
The household income numbers: $62,138 for Evanston, $71,366 for Arlington Heights and $64,697 for Skokie, compared to a national average of $48,451.
Per capita income: $41,361 for Evanston, $37,735 for Arlington Heights and $25,467 for Skokie, compared to a national average of $25,267.
Average household size: 2.21 in Evanston, 2.44 in Arlington Heights and 3.04 in Skokie, compared to a national average of 2.61.
Average family size: 2.97 in Evanston, 3.17 in Arlington Heights and 3.58 in Skokie, compared to a national average of 3.2.
(A household consists of any people who share a house or apartment. To be considered a family, the people living together have to be related to each other. The annual census bureau survey excludes people living in group quarters, so the several thousand students living in Northwestern University dormitories are not counted in the Evanston figures.)
Another explanation might be that a community with more immigrants would spend more to provide social services for the new arrivals. But the census survey provides no support for that.
Evanston has slightly more foreign born residents and people who speak a language other than English at home than does Arlington Heights, but far fewer than Skokie.
Foreign born: 17.4 percent in Evanston, 13.6 percent in Arlington Heights and 41.6 percent in Skokie, compared to a national average of 12.5 percent.
Speaking a language other than English at home: 22.1 percent in Evanston, 18.6 percent in Arlington Heights and 57.5 percent in Skokie, compared to a national average of 19.7 percent.
One might argue that a community with higher home values could afford to pay more for city services — although the payment has to come out of household income, casting doubt on the validity of the comparison.
And it is true that homes typically cost somewhat more in Evanston than the other two towns.
Lumping together single family detached homes and condos, the census survey says the median values are: $429,700 in Evanston, $368,300 in Arlington Heights and $396,300 in Skokie. By comparison, the median house value nationwide is just $185,200.
One of the most dramatic differences between the three communities is in the percentage of residents over the age of 25 who have college degrees.
In Evanston it’s 63.9 percent, in Arlington Heights 49.2 percent and in Skokie just 40.4 percent — compared to a national average of 27 percent.
Could it be that better-educated people simply like to pay more for their government services?