Studies find high quality of life in Washington County

County grades out well in pair of number-crunching projects


Clint Riese
News Editor

Local counties stack up well when it comes to socioeconomics and health, according to two recent studies.

The County Health Rankings, put out annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, measures the health of nearly every county in the country based on more than 20 data sources. Results are then ranked by state in several categories.

The State of the Valley project, featuring data from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Survey Research Center, presents indicators from the Lower St. Croix River Valley, which is defined by the counties of Chisago and Washington in Minnesota and Pierce, Polk and St. Croix in Wisconsin.

State of the Valley

More than 460,000 residents in the five-county Lower St. Croix River Valley are bound by proximity, but their well-being varies greatly, according to county profiles on the State of the Valley website (, which was created last month.

Washington County scored high in many quality of life categories, especially those related to economics.

“Many measures of economic well-being indicate that Washington County benefits from its proximity and accessibility to the Twin Cities’ employment centers,” the county’s synopsis summarized.

Median household income in 2011 was $78,365, nearly $21,000 higher than the state average. The poverty level, 6.0 percent, was slightly more than half the statewide average of 11.6 percent. The percentage of children qualifying for school lunch assistance in 2011, 3.7 percent, was less than half the state average. Nearly 82 percent of county households owned their home, a figure 9 percent higher than the state average. However, at 1.8 percent, the 2011 residential foreclosure rate was more than one-third higher than the state average.

Washington County also beat the state average in all education indicators.

Although residents had better-than-average access to health care, obesity rates were level since 2007 while the state average declined steadily.

Washington County’s makeup changed due to rapid population growth. An increase of 9.8 percent from 2005 to 2011 translates to more than 21,000 additional residents.

Likewise, population played a major role in shaping Chisago County. During the six-year window, the county’s population grew more than 5,000 people, or 10.6 percent, a clip more than 2.5 times that of the state average.

Chisago County also graded out ahead of the curve in median household income ($63,959) and poverty rate (8.1 percent). But while nearly 85 percent of households own their homes, 40 percent are considered cost-burdened because they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Even so, the residential foreclosure rate (1.0 percent) was slightly below the state average.

The county’s synopsis noted that civic engagement is likely dampened by the high number (52 percent) of workers who commute more than 30 minutes each way.

Chisago County rated close to state averages in health and food security categories. Education rates showed mixed results: higher-than-average third-grade reading proficiency and high school graduation numbers, but a percentage of adults with a four-year college degree (17.6) barely more than half that of the state average.

The State of the Valley is a collaborative project funded by the Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, Andersen Corporate Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, Bremer Bank, St. Croix Valley Foundation, United Way of the St. Croix Valley and United Way of Washington County-East.

“This information is important to local funders,” Brad Kruse, program director for the Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, said. “We use it to better understand the needs and gaps in the community. (It) will help us determine how to allocate funding to keep our communities strong for generations to come.”

The Survey Research Center will update the data annually with the goal of identifying trends and emerging issues.

County Health Rankings

Washington County is among the healthiest counties in Minnesota, according to findings of the County Health Rankings. It ranked first of the state’s 87 counties in one of the two main categories, health factors. In the other, health outcomes, it ranked 10th.

In the sub-categories, Washington County ranked second in clinical care, second in social and economic factors, ninth in mortality (length of life), 36th in physical environment and 37th in morbidity (quality of life).

Its sexually transmitted infections rate, based on 164 chlamydia carriers per 100,000 population, was under 60 percent of the state average. The teen birth rate of 14 females per 1,000 ages 15-19 was less than 54 percent of the state average.

The county had above-average ratios of primary care physicians (941:1) and dentists (1,479:1), and significantly better-than-average rates of high school graduates (89 percent), children in poverty (7 percent) and violent crime.

Chisago County scored 35th in health outcomes and 46th in health factors.

Chisago County ranked 33rd in the sub-category of social and economic factors, 38th in physical environment, 40th in clinical care and 65th in morbidity. It also ranked 18th in mortality despite being 70th in health behaviors. Its smoking rate of 27 percent was 10 percent higher than the state average. Like its neighbor to the south, it ranked much better than average in sexually transmitted infections (176 per 100,000) and teen births (19 per 1,000).

Anoka County ranked in the lower half of health outcomes (47th) and health factors (51st).

In sub-categories, it came in 21st in mortality, 37th in social and economic factors, 39th in clinical care, 67th in health behaviors, 72nd in physical environment and 76th in morbidity.

As a state, Minnesota ranked in the nation’s best 10 percent in premature death rate, physical inactivity rate and mammography screening percentage, among other indicators.

The County Health Ratings, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are compiled using national and state data sources. Measures are standardized and combined using scientifically informed weights with the goal of raising awareness of how and why health varies from place to place.