Illinois. America’s heartland. The Land of Lincoln. Green summers, cold winters. Farmers and gangsters. And everything in between.
It’s not a flyover state. In fact, when you consider Chicago is possibly the best city in America, Illinois can make a case that it’s the most important state in the entire midwest.
Where you’ve got corn fields, corn hole, and some of the hardest-working, down-to-earth people in the country.
But is it all roses in Illinois? Of course not. Just like every other state, Illinois has its issues. The sore spots, if you will. The purpose of this post is to use science and data to determine which Illinois cities need a little tender loving care.
After analyzing 342 of the Prairie State’s most populous cities, we came up with this list as the 10 places that could use a hug right about now:
- Benton (Photos)
- Danville (Photos)
- East St. Louis (Photos)
- Kankakee (Photos)
- Litchfield (Photos)
- West Frankfort (Photos)
- Alton (Photos)
- Salem (Photos)
- Decatur (Photos)
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and how your town ranked.
How do you decide if a place has some real issues or not?
In order to rank the cities in Illinois who need the most love right about now, we had to determine what criteria people like or dislike about a place. It isn’t a stretch to assume that people like low crime, solid education, great weather, things to do and a stable economy.
So we scraped the internet for those criteria, asked for the opposite of those, and it spit out the answer. Like magic.
How we crunched the numbers
We threw a lot of criteria at this one in order to get the best, most complete results possible. Using FBI crime data, the government census, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Sperling’s Best Places, this is the criteria we used:
- Population Density (The lower the worse)
- Highest Unemployment Rates
- Adjusted Median Income (Median income adjusted for the cost of living)
- High Housing Vacancy Rate
- Education (Low expenditures per student and high Student Teacher Ratio)
- High Crime
If you’d like to see the complete list of cities, scroll to the bottom of this post to see a link to the entire data set. If you’re wondering where Chicago ended up, it was smack dab in the middle. Chicago doesn’t need your love. They love themselves enough.
Additional note: We get the crime numbers from the FBI, which gets its crime numbers from the cities themselves. This list is based on data, and is entirely unbiased.
When you factor in the economy, crime and sheer number of things to do, Benton residents are in need of a hug more than any other place in the state.
Where is Benton, Illinois you say? It’s in Franklin County, on I-57 on your way to Carbondale. If you’re driving through town, stop by and give a friendly wave. They could sure use it right about now.
Benton has the 20th worse crime in Illinois, but most of those crimes are property crimes, meaning robberies and thefts. However, when you consider than Benton residents had a 1 in 40 chance of having something stolen from them last year, it’s a place where you can’t let your guard down.
Other issues with Benton: The unemployment rank is 9.4%, residents earn about $29,000 a year, and home costs hover around $62,000 on average. Meaning there’s not a lot of demand.
And 17% of the families live below the poverty line here.
Ah, Danville. Such an interesting place. After falling from grace in the mid 1900’s after the post industrial era, Danville has become a place of Marathon gas stations, mini strip malls and shootings. Lots and lots of shootings.
In fact, Danville is the 5th most dangerous place in Illinois. Some of the punks here need to take a time out.
Other factors that bring Danville down are its unemployment rate (9.2%), median household income ($35,198) and average home cost ($68,000).
But hey, you just got a T.J. Maxx and a Meijer, and there’s talk of building a river casino in town, so at least there’s that. (Hugs).
Natives Gene Hackman, Dick Van Dyke and Joe Cannon are all probably really disappointed right now. Maybe someone should tweet them. #DanvilleNeedsLove.
3. East St. Louis
Don’t even try and argue about this one. The only thing controversial about East St. Louis being this high is that it wasn’t number one.
East St. Louis needs some tough love.
The unemployment rate is 12% which is the second-highest in the state of Illinois. And residents here make a paltry $19,278 a year. That’s well below the poverty line. Home values are barely above $40,000, which is the 4th-lowest in the state.
And crime. There isn’t a more dangerous city in the state. Not even close.
The only thing keeping East St. Louis from topping this list is the fact that its public school system is actually decent – meaning student spending and teacher-student ratios are a main focus in trying to turn this community around.
Hopefully, the next generation of kids growing up in this city can step it up and talk some sense into the older generation.
If you’ve ever taken the backroads to or from Chicago, you might have passed through Hoopeston on Route 1. It seems to be a relatively quiet, clean place.
Here’s what science says about why Hoopeston needs some love: The unemployment rate is nearly 9%, residents earn about $35,000 a year, and home prices are just over $65,000. Across the board, those are in the bottom 10% in the state. Not absolutely horrible, but not desirable, either.
And there simply isn’t anything to do in Hoopeston. Don’t believe me? The city’s events calendar is…blank.
Maybe people in Hoopeston just need some friends. They don’t even have a Facebook page for their city. #FacebookforHoopeston
Kankakee is pretty much the first place you get to when you leave Chicago, south on I-57. And according to the data, it might be the first place you might want to pull over and spread some goodwill.
Kankakee has the third lowest student-teacher ratio in the state, and its public education system is in the bottom 10% as a whole when it comes to spending. The unemployment rate is 11%, which is nearly double the national average.
Factor in a very low median household income and the 16th-highest crime rate in the state, and you’ve got some real issues. Oh yeah, and there were four murders here in 2013. Yikes.
Kankakee has seen its ups and downs over the years. In the late 90s, it was rated as one of the best places to raise a family one year, and then two years later, rated as the worst place to live by Places Rated Almanac.
But it’s been consistently rated as having great golf courses. And they’re probably looking for a new friend to play with.
Little Litchfield, along I-55 in the southern part of the state, isn’t that bad in any given category. It’s just generally lousy across the board here. They could really use some BFFs in Litchfield right about now.
Despite that fact that there’s nothing to do for fun except cow tip or get drunk, the unemployment rate is 9%, income levels are in the bottom 5% and 1 in 31 residents has a chance of being the victim of a property crime. That’s a lot of stolen laptops, cell phones and Jay Cutler jerseys.
Who are we kidding. Who wants to steal a Cutler jersey?
On a positive note, while the amount spent per student is 15th worst in the state, the student-teacher ratio is pretty decent. So it sounds like the kids are getting some love.
7. West Frankfort
West Frankfort is just south of Benton along I-57. Meaning there are quite a few cities along that corridor that could use your kind thoughts.
The kids who attend schools here suffer through the 26th-lowest funded system in the state. The average home is valued at only $57,000 – the sixth-lowest in Illinois. Additional eye openers are the high unemployment rate (9.4%) and median household income ($33,000).
If there’s a bright spot here, it’s that the crime is about average for a city of its size.
One out of 10 people in Alton was statistically the victim of some type of property crime in 2013. To put that into perspective, since the average person has 300 Facebook friends, if everyone you knew lived in Alton, 15 of them would have been robbed.
No one likes worrying about watching their back all of the time. People in Alton really need some positive re-encouragement right about now.
Besides that, the homes here are almost as cheap as they come in the state. When you can purchase a house for $60,000, that’s a sign that there isn’t a lot of demand.
Alton lies along the Mississippi River near St. Louis. Perhaps the Cardinal fans who live there can take solace in the fact that at least the Red Birds are having another good year.
The public schools in Salem are average at best, but that’s where the desirability factor comes to an end.
Unemployment and property crime numbers are way higher than average for this little city near St. Louis. Salem is home to the popular dessert condiment Miracle Whip. Hopefully it doesn’t take a miracle to whip this little midwest city into shape.
By far the largest city to top this list, Decatur’s main issues are crime and unemployment. When 1 in 10 people doesn’t have a job, and 1 in 27 people is the victim of some type of crime, things aren’t exactly peachy. In fact, Decatur saw five murders two years ago. That’s really high for a city of its size.
If you know anyone in Decatur, tag them on this article and tell them you love them.
There You Have It
If you’re analyzing places in Illinois who have it rough right now, and could use a big hug, this is an accurate list.
In fact, the data has determined that most of the trouble areas in Illinois are in fact as a result of the St. Louis sprawl, not from the Chicago effect. Which might be surprising to some.
If you’re curious enough, here are the best 10 places to live in Illinois, according to science.
- Wilmette (Pop. 27,202)
- Buffalo Grove (Pop. 41,667)
- Highland Park (Pop. 29,909)
- Deerfield (Pop. 18,482)
- Hinsdale (16,594)