New data being released today by the U.S. Census Bureau contains interesting statistics about the suburbs.
Among the massive volumes of data being released in the bureau's 2012-2016 American Community Survey is information on property taxes, veterans, health insurance, commute times, housing rental prices and more. The entire data report can be seen at census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/.
In a preliminary look, three numbers that stood out:
1. Cook County property taxes soared
Between 2012 and 2016, the median real estate taxes in Cook County increased by 14 percent, to $4,696. That's more than double the percentage increase of other Chicago-area counties.
DuPage and McHenry counties' median real estate taxes increased by 6.5 percent during the same time frame. The increase was 6 percent in Kane County, 5.2 percent in Will County and 5 percent in Lake County.
But even though Cook County property owners saw the biggest increase, the median bill was the lowest. The highest median was in Lake County, at $6,997.
Cook County assessor's office spokesman Tom Shaer said a big factor is that 2012 real estates taxes were artificially low. They reflected property assessments from 2008 to 2011 -- the peak of the recession -- when home prices plummeted. Property values rallied in 2013-2015, especially in the Northwest suburbs, but have since leveled off again, he said.
Stressing that the assessor's office does not set tax rates, just property valuations, Shaer noted that many local governing bodies, like school districts, have increased their tax rates since 2012.
He declined to comment on why Cook County's increase was so much higher than neighboring counties', saying he can explain only Cook County's numbers.
2. Sharp drop in veterans
Since 2012, the number of military veterans in all Chicago-area counties has dropped significantly. There are anywhere from 10 percent fewer veterans in Will County to 19 percent fewer in Cook County, the data shows.
Veterans groups say a big reason for the drop is that the days when virtually all eligible men served in the military are long gone.
"A lot of the old-timers are dying off, and (the younger ones) are not signing up like they used to," said Tony Attieri of Wheeling, commander of the AMVETS Post 66.
His post's popular Adopt-a-Sailor Thanksgiving program, which for years had 150 sailors, had just 39 this year. And veterans groups across the suburbs are struggling to maintain memberships. South Elgin and Carpentersville merged VFW posts this fall.
"It's just a whole different world out there today," Attieri said.
3. Many people still don't have health insurance
Even though the Affordable Care Act, which went into law in 2014, boosted the number of people who have private insurance and Medicaid in every suburban county, the data shows that nearly 13 percent of Cook County residents and 11 percent of Kane County residents still don't have health insurance. Less than 10 percent were uninsured in the other collar counties.
Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO of Cook County Health and Hospital Systems, said there are many reasons people don't have health insurance. It could be that they're residents living in the country illegally who don't qualify for Medicaid or marketplace insurance, or they're people who can't afford the annual deductibles or who don't think they need insurance.
"There are a few hundred thousand residents in Cook County who are eligible for Medicaid but just haven't signed up," Shannon said.
The county and many local social service agencies have made a push to help people get health insurance, which Shannon said has been challenging due to this year's shortened enrollment window and decreased advertising about the Affordable Care Act.
The deadline to enroll is Dec. 15, and people can learn what insurance options they might be eligible for by calling the county's hotline at (312) 864-2224.