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The Pulse

Northwest suburban lifestyles and issues

Nick Panagakis


Chicago's northwest suburban area contains almost one-fourth of the 1.6 million households in the six-county suburban area and 9 percent of all households in Illinois. The land beyond O'Hare, as it became known after the airport opened in 1959, has undergone extraordinary residential growth in recent years. According to 1990 census figures, the area has almost twice as many households as it did 20 years ago.

A Chicago Tribune poll tells us something about the makeup and lifestyles of families in the area, where they came from, what concerns them and the effect of rapid population growth in the area. The poll sample consisted of 1,200 heads of household in the seven townships located in the panhandle of Cook County (that is, all towns between DesPlaines and Barrington) plus adjacent townships in Lake, McHenry and Kane counties. These are highlights of the poll.

Average heads of households in the northwest suburbs have lived in their communities for 12 years; over half lived somewhere else 10 years ago. At one time suburbanites were mainly people who had moved out of Chicago but not anymore. Today, only 46 percent have ever lived in Chicago, and only 11 percent within the past 10 years. Of more younger households (with the head of the household under age 35) 70 percent have never lived in Chicago.

Development and traffic are major issues in the area. About a third call for a halt in the rate of commercial and residential development. Sixty-eight percent named traffic as a problem in the area, just one percentage point behind complaints about property tax increases. Bumper-to-bumper traffic and long delays at stop lights characterize most drivers' descriptions of usual traffic conditions on major east-west roads such as Golf, Higgins and Dundee and on north-south Roselle Road and Highway 53. Although 75 percent favor more expressways in northwest Cook County, most believe new roads would only bring more cars and that traffic would remain the same.

Nine of 10 employed people drive alone to work. Since fewer than 10 percent work in downtown Chicago, and other work destinations are scattered throughout the area, only 8 percent take a train or a bus to work, and only 2 percent are in a car pool.

Over half of all households have two cars, 21 percent have one car, and 23 percent have three or more cars. For parents of high school or college age youngsters the percentage with three cars rises to over 50 percent.

Over half of the families have children. More have younger than older children, meaning that school attendance is increasing. Overcrowded classrooms are becoming a problem in outlying areas. Forty-four percent are very satisfied with the quality of education available at local schools, and 33 percent are fairly satisfied. One-third say schools don't give enough emphasis to basic reading and writing skills, to math and science, to preparing college-bound students or to moral and ethical behavior.

The lifestyles of suburban kids have changed. Four of five parents say its harder to be a kid today than when they were growing up. Perhaps it's because more moms are working today: 64 percent of northwest suburban mothers with children in school hold down a steady job. In the seven days preceding the poll interviews, parents and children had dinner at home together an average of 4.3 times, but the average for one in five families was zero to three times.

According to 40 percent of parents, the drug problem is worse now than five years ago, and only 10 percent said drugs are less of a problem, a measure of failure for the

60/August & September 1991/Illinois Issues

War on Drugs. One in five parents have firsthand knowledge of someone in their area who has used or is using drugs. And a shocking 86 percent of parents believe any teenager knows where to buy drugs in their community if the teenager wanted to.

Over 90 percent of parents with children not yet in college plan to send them. Perhaps this is because 79 percent believe it will be more difficult for young people today to achieve the same standard of living they have. But college is expensive, and paying for it worries parents more than any economic concern we asked about: 47 percent say they worry a lot about paying for college, more than paying property taxes or affording retirement. Most started saving money for college when their children were in elementary school or before. Paying for college will cause 66 percent to make sacrifices on other household expenses.

The average household income in the area is $53,000. The average is higher for younger households: $59,000 for those in the 36-45 age group. It takes considerably more to buy a home in the area than it did 20 years ago. The great majority are homeowners. Single-family residences predominate.

On recycling, 72 percent now have curbside service, and 79 percent of these say they recycle all or almost all of their newspapers, glass, plastic and aluminum. Just 21 percent without curbside service recycle all or almost all of their waste. Disposal of yard waste means higher cost to suburban homeowners this year. Special bags and village stickers now must be purchased. As a consequence, 69 percent say they are leaving more grass clippings on the lawn than a year ago, and 31 percent now have compost piles.

O'Hare may have spurred development in these suburbs, but airport noise is now a problem for 23 percent in the area, a figure that rises to31 percent in the eastern portion and 57 percent in the communities of Park Ridge, DesPlaines and Elk Grove Village. On construction of a new O'Hare runway, opinion is divided: 39 percent to 39 percent.

Nick Panagakis is president of Market Shares Corporation, a marketing and public opinion research firm headquartered in Mount Prospect. Panagakis, a member of the National Council on Public Polls, is best known for pre-election and exit polls conducted for the news media in Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin.

August & September 1991/Illinois Issues /61

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