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Local Editorials

Grass greener on other side of Mississippi

Iowa counties that border the Sauk Valley have markedly lower unemployment rates than our region does. Why? The answers are certainly worth exploring.

Agriculture and manufacturing are the traditional cornerstones of the Midwestern economy, supplemented by health care, education, biotech companies, and other regional employers.

That goes for Illinois. That also goes for our neighbor, Iowa.

A Sauk Valley Media weekend enterprise story last week took a look at the unemployment rates for several Sauk Valley counties and their counterparts directly across the Mississippi River.

We expected to find that the jobless rates in Whiteside County and its neighbor, Clinton County, Iowa, would be similar.

Not so.

Whiteside’s jobless rate in March was 9.7 percent.

Clinton County’s jobless rate was much lower – 5.8 percent.

One county north, Carroll County had a 9.8 percent unemployment rate.

Across the river in Iowa, Jackson County had a 6 percent unemployment rate.

Statewide, Illinois’ jobless rate in March was 9.5 percent, while Iowa’s was 4.9 percent.

Jobless rates often differ, state by state, because of differences in states’ overall economies. Yet, it’s puzzling to see that the mere act of crossing the Mississippi River would lead to a place where many fewer people are without work.

Looking at international borders that separate different socioeconomic systems (for example, South Korea-North Korea or the former West Germany-East Germany), one would expect economic circumstances to be markedly different.

But it’s harder to accept such a situation within our nation – especially when we’re on the side where fewer people have jobs.

A reporter contacted experts to see what they thought. Various theories were proposed. The topography on either side of the river might favor Iowa over Illinois (less flooding in Iowa), leading to a more diverse and vibrant economy there.

Differences in educational levels also might have something to do with it, as well as proximity to regional economic centers.

Several officials warned that it would be difficult to reach any conclusions about the disparity.

Still, there must be some reason.

Is a higher percentage of Illinois’ population in the workforce?

Are women more likely to work in Illinois than in Iowa?

Is manufacturing cheaper in Iowa than Illinois?

Do wage rates and cost of living have anything to do with it?

Iowa has a graduated state income tax, while Illinois has a flat income tax. Could that be a factor?

The questions are worth asking. Perhaps researchers at a university or community college could take up the challenge and find the answers.

Iowa’s legislators are not standing still. Hawkeye State lawmakers have been working on a plan to cut commercial property tax rates to further spur economic growth. We’ve heard no such talk by Illinois lawmakers in our cash-strapped state.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, so they say.

Maybe that phenomenon is in play as we on the Illinois side look longingly across the mighty Mississippi at all those Iowa jobs – and the green cash they generate.

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