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Yes, we have big problems, but we’re most certainly not alone

Thursday, Jun 1, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Daily Herald op-ed by Rep. Martin McLaughlin (R-Barrington)

Illinois may be located in the Midwest, but it is home to a surprising and alarming number of deserts. At least that is what the Democrats like to tell us.

Healthcare deserts. Housing deserts. Education deserts. Food deserts. Hospital deserts. Infrastructure deserts. Pharmacy deserts. Transportation deserts. For every problem facing our state, there is an accompanying “desert” associated with it.

And right on queue, there is a measure (SB 850) being considered in the legislature to allow the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to create a Grocery Initiative and to study food deserts in Illinois and provide money to underserved areas. In other words, more government spending

The so-called remedy to these “deserts” is not the cure but is instead the underlying problem. Democrats have had total control of the state for a long time, and at no point has the thought occurred to them that just maybe the aggravating factors contributing to all of these “deserts” is the policies they have implemented. The left loves to talk about systemic problems and yet they ignore the systemic problems their policies have created.

Illinois has “deserts” because there is a climate crisis in our state. No, not global warming. A business climate crisis.

Let’s be very clear right up front: There is no doubt that our business climate is subpar, to put it mildly. Just look at the huge difficulties the governor has had while trying to lure an electric vehicle manufacturer here. It’s embarrassing.

But these problems aren’t confined to Illinois. They are all national issues.

* Let’s start with healthcare. ArcGIS

Hospital Deserts in America

The National Rural Health Association reports that 77% of rural counties are considered “Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas”


A team of researchers found that in Los Angeles 89 percent of Black-majority census tracts were situated in trauma deserts; in Chicago, 73 percent; in New York City 14 percent. In Los Angeles County, South Los Angeles with one-million residents and the highest mortality rate in the county, also has the highest rates of disease and premature deaths from preventable conditions: “coronary heart disease, homicide, diabetes, lung cancer, and motor vehicle crashes.”

Washington Post

In Texas alone, 159 of the state’s 254 counties have no general surgeons, 121 counties have no medical specialists, and 35 counties have no doctors at all. Thirty more counties are each forced to rely on just a single doctor, like Garner, a family physician by training who by necessity has become so much else: medical director of Culberson County.

* Housing deserts. USA Today

Among Latinos, 42%, or roughly 21.2 million, lived in a census tract that lacked affordable housing in 2019. Nearly 9 in 10 of the Latino residents in such communities lived in five states: California, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas.


Rental deserts make up about 31 percent of all neighborhoods nationally. This amounts to more than 22,000 census tracts where less than 20 percent of the stock is available to renters. Among these, nearly 7,000 are extreme rental deserts where just 10 percent of the stock or less is renter-occupied or vacant for rent. At the other end of the spectrum, high-rental neighborhoods make up just 5 percent of all tracts.

Rental deserts are disproportionately located in the suburbs where restrictive land use regulations and not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) politics can be common. In fact, suburban neighborhoods in metropolitan areas make up 54 percent of all tracts but account for 68 percent of rental deserts

* Education deserts

An education desert is defined as a local area where there are either zero or only one public broad-access colleges nearby. […]

Of the nation’s 709 commuting zones, 392 are classified as education deserts, and these areas are home to approximately 35 million people (about 10% of the US population). These communities are spread across the country, with many concentrated in rural areas of low population density

* Food deserts. United States Department of Agriculture

The Conversation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 54.4 million Americans live in low-income areas with poor access to healthy food. For city residents, this means they are more than half a mile from the nearest supermarket.


Northwest Florida is home to 24 food deserts

According to the USDA’s most recent food access research report, 12.8% of Americans — more than 39 million people — live in food deserts. A food desert can be defined as a geographic area where residents may have low income and low access to healthy foods.

* Pharmacy deserts. The Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at the University of Southern California

Black and Latino neighborhoods in the 30 most populous U.S. cities had fewer pharmacies than white or diverse neighborhoods between 2007-2015, USC research shows, suggesting that ‘pharmacy deserts’ — like so-called food deserts — may be an overlooked contributor to persistent racial and ethnic health disparities.

* Infrastructure deserts. NBC DFW

A new study from Southern Methodist University Engineering experts found 62 infrastructure deserts in the City of Dallas.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Barbara Minsker led the research project using public data and aerial maps.

“An infrastructure desert is a low-income area that has very highly deficient infrastructure compared to other areas of the city,” Minsker said.

* Transportation deserts. Smithsonian Magazine

Using GIS-based mapping technology, we recently assessed 52 U.S. cities, from large metropolises like New York City and Los Angeles to smaller cities such as Wichita. We systematically analyzed transportation and demand at the block group level – essentially, by neighborhoods. Then we classified block groups as “transit deserts,” with inadequate transportation services compared to demand; “transit oases,” with more transportation services than demand; and areas where transit supply meets demand. […]

Transportation deserts were present to varying degrees in all 52 cities in our study. In transit desert block groups, on average, about 43 percent of residents were transit dependent. But surprisingly, even in block groups that have enough transit service to meet demand, 38 percent of the population was transit dependent.

There are more examples and stats out there, but you get the gist.

* Meanwhile…

Governor JB Pritzker, Manner Polymers, and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today joined local leaders and partners to announce Manner Polymers’ new manufacturing facility in Mount Vernon. Known as an industry manufacturing leader in polymer compounds, Manner Polymers’ new state-of-the-art Illinois facility will manufacture a wide array of PVC compounds, including automotive PVC compounds for use in electric vehicles (EVs) and components for solar panels.

The facility will be powered by a 15-acre solar field located on site. Bolstered by a Reimagining Energy and Vehicles in Illinois (REV Illinois) incentive package, Manner Polymers plans to invest $54 million and create more than 60 jobs for the Southern Illinois region.

That’s good news, but when the governor goes out of his way to enthusiastically tout the creation of only 60 jobs, there’s a problem.


  1. - train111 - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 12:45 pm:


    My hometown in Wisconsin is a food desert. There were 4 grocery stores in town when I left in 1988 - now there is 1.
    Hospital - gone! Want to see a doctor at the clinic in town - you are on a waiting list for 2 or 3 months.
    How the times have changed.
    Interesting that none of Chicago shows up as a food desert despite all the statements about it.


  2. - Larry Bowa Jr. - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 12:48 pm:

    Golly, I’m just grateful there are Republicans in Barrington willing to lecture me about how nobody in America lacks for anything, and if they do it’s the Dems fault because big business really, really wants to build grocery stores on the main drags of all our dead small towns, if only big government would let them.

  3. - Pundent - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 12:54 pm:

    =The left loves to talk about systemic problems and yet they ignore the systemic problems their policies have created.=

    Says the guy with no apparent awareness of the systemic problems that keep his party from being relevant.

  4. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:00 pm:

    The reason Republicans can’t win on policy where a governor and his party see 60 jobs worth the hay generated is that the cultish social agenda and anger and hatred towards others will always overshadow the wonky policies and discussions to deficiencies within current policies that need scrutiny.

    Barrington may be bereft of a much needed extra Mercedes Benz dealership, but what comes off as elitist whining begins with looking at the messenger and wondering aloud what exactly is someone from Barrington “missing”… even if the truth, the truth nationally, says these deserts are hurting everyone, everywhere.

    Winners. Make. Policy.

    You want “better” policy, then win with candidates that aren’t protecting guns at all costs and requiring women to see pregnancy to full term or face legal jeopardy. Winning elections means understanding the policies moving voters to move other policies that are rewarded by winning seats, and making policy.

    The cultists want purity at the cost of minority, and the cost too of making policy changes, and changing the course of a state too.

    Right now, voters in Illinois trust Dems more, otherwise policies the cult pushes would win… statewide.

  5. - Honeybear - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:07 pm:

    The thing is, I totally disagree with McLaughlins denial of deserts. It’s not an “either or” but a “both and” equation to me.
    We have the full compliment of deserts.

    But in my 9 year experience from working in DHS in the third largest concentration of poverty in the state, I know that
    Systems of poverty (deserts)
    are tightly intertwined with
    Locations of poverty

    This is why we’re going to see I huge spike in poverty when the debt ceiling work requirements are instituted.

    The vast majority 90% of folks on SNAP are working.
    Work force participation in this population ( snap recipients)
    Is not the problem.
    It’s getting enough work hours to not be kicked off SNAP with the work requirement.
    That’s a problem that recipients don’t control
    Employers do

    Three months after these rules are implemented
    A huge amount of local businesses will see revenues plummet.
    Because every snap dollar gets plowed right back into local grocery stores.
    In turn for every dollar received in snap is a dollar that can be used for rent and car expenses or any number of things that help the local economy.

    Thus putting work requirements on snap will cut a huge number off from snap which won’t then be spent on food. Making the struggling person spend it on buying food and not on other things they need to live.

    It will have a huge ripple effect on local economies deepening the deserts.

    So I don’t understand why this representative wants to help businesses but absolutely supports a measure that will cripple many local businesses.

    The medicine will kill the patient.

    Will Rogers once Said
    Always give a man a dollar. It will be in the hands of a rich man by nightfall but at least it went through the poor fellers hand”

  6. - Immigrants Welcome - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:07 pm:

    = That’s good news, but when the governor goes out of his way to enthusiastically tout the creation of only 60 jobs, there’s a problem.=

    60 jobs in Mt. Vernon (pop. 14,600) is roughly equivalent to 11,000 jobs in Chicago (pop. 2.7M). So I would actually argue that’s a BFD and an important signal to send that people in rural communities matter

  7. - Moe Berg - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:10 pm:

    Appreciate you taking the time to do a thorough fisking of Rep. McLaughlin’s erroneous claims about deserts. That alone demolishes the piece’s premise.

    What Rep. McLaughlin really wants is race-to-the- bottom policies that benefit guys like Rep. McLaughlin and his political patrons.

    I wish Citadel, Cat, and Tyson well. They’ve elected to move to states that are at war with civil rights, women’s healthcare, the environment, free speech, education and public health.

    Sure, their execs will reap 0% income taxes - the main driver of your decision to move - but good luck with employee retention and recruitment in the years to come.

  8. - Colin O’Scopy - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:16 pm:

    =Healthcare deserts. Housing deserts. Education deserts. Food deserts. Hospital deserts. Infrastructure deserts. Pharmacy deserts. Transportation deserts. For every problem facing our state, there is an accompanying “desert” associated with it.=

    Said the man who lives within a mile of all these services. Heck, I’ll wager he had not one but two grocery stores within a mile of his house. And A pharmacy, and a hospital.

  9. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:18 pm:

    My understanding is that to solve these problems, Republicans want to dump “job-killing regulations” which include child labor laws, the minimum wage, workplace safety regulations, collective bargaining, etc. How does that make things better for most people?

  10. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:19 pm:

    Marty McGlaughlin lifted his gaze over the wide, impeccably maintained lawns of Barrington, past its many estates and boutiques, to express dismay at the problems of supply and demand and their impact on peoples lives. Bra-vo sir.

    When you worship at the altar of unfettered capitalism, wondering why poor people don’t have access to doctors, fresh food and other basic services his Barrington neighbors take for granted, you don’t notice that the free market isn’t free. Capitalism creates winners and losers. McGlaighlin’s comments would have been common in Dickens’ London in the 19th century.

    Are there no work houses?

    The simple fact is that market failures can best be corrected by public policy. I know it bothers the wealthy that poor people can vote, but they can and they do and they elect people to solve the problems they face. That’s democracy. You’d think he’d know that.

  11. - Excitable Boy - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:20 pm:

    Same tired talking point from the IL GOP, zero ideas. The laziness of their party is astounding.

  12. - Demoralized - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:24 pm:

    ==In other words, more government spending==

    So what is your solution Representative. Because we all know Republicans aren’t too keen on spending money on social initiatives. Gotta pull yourself up by your own bootstraps don’t you know.

    The problem with the Republican Party in Illinois is that the majority of voters in the state aren’t buying what they are selling. But instead of trying to adapt they double and triple down on their “ideas.” Your ideas have been rejected. Come up with something new other than the usual whining.

  13. - The Truth - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:25 pm:

    To pile on because I’m petty, it’s “right on cue”, not “right on queue”, Mr. McLaughlin. Barrington must be a vocabulary desert.

  14. - Nuke The Whales - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:26 pm:

    Related: The New York Times published a great guest essay by Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance titled “The Real Reason Your Groceries Are Getting So Expensive” that indirectly covers the existence of food deserts which, as Rich points out, are a national problem.

  15. - Give Us Barabbas - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:31 pm:

    Those sixty jobs have multiplier effects. That’s sixty new tax payers, sixty families with kids, likely. If they are all newcomers to Mt. Vernon, they are going to be spending their pay on goods and services nearby, creating demand. That’s sixty new tax payers, sixty families with kids, likely. If they are not newcomers, they now have jobs allowing them to stay and help keep the town alive.

  16. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 1:31 pm:

    SB850 is co-sponsored by such known leftists as …
    Dale Fowler, Terri Bryant, Win Stoller, Sally Turner, Norine Hammond and Ryan Spain.

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest they know the challenges of their districts better than Mr. Barrington. And kudos to them for recognizing the shared challenges urban and rural communities face and working toward possible solutions.

  17. - Streator Curmudgeon - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 2:16 pm:

    Barrington, it appears, has a credibility desert.

  18. - duck duck goose - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 2:22 pm:

    I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the representative’s complaint. Is he arguing that deserts don’t exist? That they do exist but should be ignored? Or that they do exist, but the free market should act to fix the market failure? The first option is laughably wrong. The second is laughably curmudgeonly. The third is…not the way the free market works.

  19. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 2:26 pm:

    ===Is he arguing===

    He’s basically just screaming “Illinois sucks!” into the wind.

  20. - Steve - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 2:28 pm:

    In a low profit margin business like the grocery business: any erosion of profits from the cost side is a disaster.

  21. - Pundent - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 2:54 pm:

    =He’s basically just screaming “Illinois sucks!” into the wind.=

    It’s the strategy that Bruce Rauner perfected upon taking office and the party hasn’t shown a willingness to move on from it since. It’s left them on the outside looking in. I suppose we should be happy that he didn’t rant about the Dems being woke or pedophiles. In that sense he might be able to pass himself off as a moderate.

  22. - Ducky LaMoore - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 3:10 pm:

    This is a feature, not a bug of Reaganomics. Economies of scale, baby. I live in an everything desert. The grocery stores are gone. Doctor’s office gone. Ford and Chevy dealers gone. John Deere dealer long gone. Hardware store gone. Thank goodness for reliable vehicles to get to Peoria. Sadly, the best (and only) solutions are Casey’s and Dollar General to be able to get anything in town. Living in a town of 1,500 people is like living in a town of 250 people 30 years ago. Small town life is just inconvenient. I doubt any policy is going to make a big difference. We are just too far gone.

  23. - low level - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 8:10 pm:

    Speaking of deserts, since my time on staff 25+ years ago, the IL legislature has become a Republican desert

  24. - low level - Thursday, Jun 1, 23 @ 8:15 pm:

    As for being in charge for so long, its been 5 years for Dems. The problems that created the various deserts have been years in the making

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