2017 LIFE (Local Indicators For Excellence) Report



Click here for the Local Indicators For Excellence Report 2017 Snapshot.

Click the following links for detailed sections of the Report:

Portage County’s strengths, challenges and priorities are highlighted in the 2017 Local Indicators For Excellence (LIFE) Report that was recently published and released.

Kathy Davies, LIFE Report Steering Committee Chair, said work on the LIFE Report began over a year ago and nearly 70 individuals from around the community have been working together for a single end result – a community assessment that provides a comprehensive overview of the quality of life in Portage County.  “This report will inform, enlighten and empower residents and local leaders to work together in addressing the challenges and opportunities facing our communities,” said Davies.


Davies said the the LIFE Report serves three chief purposes:

  • To identify community strengths, challenges and priorities that help guide and mobilize action to improve life in Portage County.
  • To be an effective tool in raising awareness in the community on quality of life issues and to monitor trends and underlying causes.
  • To serve as a resource: a centralized, easily accessible data source for non-profits, policy makers, government, faith based organizations, foundations, corporations, residents and others.

Community input for the report, which is conducted every five years, was obtained through household surveys and listening sessions with key stakeholders in the community. In addition, committees comprised of more than 70 community members gathered data on 70 key quality of life indicators.  “The LIFE Report is not intended to be a document that just sits on a shelf,” said Angie Kellogg, LIFE Report Project Manager. “Instead, we want the data and the issues identified in the report to serve as a catalyst for action in our community.”

The last report, completed in 2012, identified four Calls to Action. They included the Academic Achievement Gap, Alcohol/Abuse and Misuse, Employment Opportunities that Generate Living Wages, Aging Populations, and Obesity. Davies said considerable progress has been made on these issues and that the report has proven to be a valuable resource for groups in the community who use it for decision-making, priority setting, grant writing and recruitment purposes. She said it also provides data that is used by hospitals and public health agencies to fulfill their CHIPP (Community Health Improvement Process and Plan) requirements to assess community needs and document a plan to address those needs. 

Davies said results from the 2017 report indicate Portage County has many strengths. They include recreation and natural resources; sense of community; size, location and accessibility; business and economy; education; support services/philanthropic community; activities; health and wellness; and community engagement.

“We have a community in which our residents feel safe and feel a strong sense of community,” said Davies. “We have a wealth of natural resources, and an abundance of outdoor recreation activities as well as art and cultural activities. We have high quality, accessible health care, as well as excellent K-12 schools systems and higher education institutions--UWSP and MSTC. We also have a diversified economic base, and a generous community that gives of its time, talent and resources. The list goes on and on.”


Like the 2012 report, the 2017 report identified some Calls to Action. They include Mental Health, Alcohol & Other Drugs, Financial Stability, and Affordable Housing.

“Just like a cog in a wheel, these Calls to Action are intended to serve as catalysts to propel our community to move forward in addressing each of these issues,” said Davies. “The purpose of the Community Calls to Action is to identify these issues as important to our community, and to recognize and acknowledge, at a community level, that they require continued attention, collaborative action and advocacy.”

Davies said it is also important to recognize that for each of the four Community Calls to Action, there are already people and organizations engaged and doing very good work to address these issues.

Mental Health

Gary Garske, Portage County Health & Human Services Health Officer and chair of the Health and Wellness sub-committee of the LIFE Report, said mental health is important to overall health. “Mental health is essential to personal well-being, family and interpersonal relationships, and the ability to contribute to community or society,” said Garske. “Mental illness can contribute to chronic health conditions that can continue through the lifespan. Without early diagnosis and treatment, children with mental disorders can have problems at home, in school, and in forming friendships. This can also interfere with their healthy development, and these problems can continue into adulthood.

Of respondents to the LIFE Community Survey, 17.4 percent said that they or someone in their family/household struggled with mental health concerns, and 14.3 percent of  Portage County high school students seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months before the 2015-16 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, compared to 13.2 percent of Wisconsin students. “Mental health is far reaching into every aspect of life,” said Garske. “It also impacts or affects issues/other indicators such as healthy weight, tobacco use, alcohol use, and substance abuse.”

He said many communities, including Portage County, do not have enough psychiatrists or other mental health providers to address the need. “The current ratio of population to mental health providers for Portage County is 830:1, compared to state average of 630:1, which results in long waiting periods to be seen by a psychiatrist,” said Garske. “The shortage is even more pronounced for child psychiatry.”

In moving forward, Garske said a newer approach is needed to build a better foundation for Portage County when it goes to mental health. He said this could be built by:

  • Reducing negative attitudes and raise awareness about the importance of mental health and wellness
  • Supporting people in the community in mental health crisis situations
  • Helping people access local mental health supports and services to meet their needs
  • Building connections throughout the community
  • Helping youth, families, and communities promote mental health and prevent or delay the onset of mental illnesses
Alcohol & Other Drugs

Garske said that like Wisconsin, Portage County’s alcohol and drug culture tolerates excessive, dangerous, unhealthy, and illegal drinking, which results in a host of societal problems such as homelessness, child abuse, crime, unemployment, injury, health problems, hospitalization, suicide, fetal abnormalities and early death.

According to the LIFE Community Survey, 47.7 percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “Alcohol is used responsibly” and 65.4 percent agreed with the statement “Binge drinking is a problem in Portage County.” Of respondents to the 2017 LIFE Community Survey, 27.2 percent admitted to having five or more drinks on one occasion at least one time in the last 30 days.

Alcohol usage among Wisconsin adults continues to be higher than the national average for all forms of consumption, including current use (63 percent), binge drinking (22 percent), and heavy drinking (7 percent). Current use among Portage County adults was 70 percent, as recently as 2014. As of 2013, consumption among high school students – initiation before age 13 (15 percent), current use (33 percent), and binge drinking (18 percent) – was lower than the U.S. as a whole.

Of respondents to the 2017 LIFE Community Survey, 69.9 percent agreed with the statement “Illegal drug use is a problem in Portage County” and 68.1 percent agreed with the statement “Abuse and misuse of prescription drugs are a concern in Portage County.” Portage County’s drug-related suspensions and expulsions rate, per 1,000 students during the 2013-14 school year, was 4.8 percent, which was greater than the rates for Marathon, Wood, or Waupaca counties.

“Substance abuse has a major impact on individuals, families, and communities,” said Garske. “The effects of substance abuse are cumulative, significantly contributing to costly social, physical, mental, and public health problems. Across the nation, misuse of prescription drugs continues to be a problem. Local efforts, including drug take-back events and two permanent prescription drug disposal sites, are community efforts designed to make prescription drugs less available for misuse.”

Possible ways to address the issue, according to Garske, include:

  • Implementing broad initiatives to reduce alcohol and drug use
  • Raising the price of alcohol
  • Supporting responsible marketing and provision of alcohol and other legal drugs
  • Reducing availability of alcohol and other drugs
  • Improving access to substance abuse counseling and treatment
Financial Stability

Mary Patoka, CAP Services CEO and President, said 39 percent of Portage County residents can’t afford the basics of housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation, despite working. She said 75 percent of two-parent households with a child aged 6-17 and 72 percent of those with a child younger than 6 are each working. “The hourly wage needed to meet basic needs in a one-parent/one-child household where the parent works full-time is $22.32/hour,” she said.

The hourly wage needed in a two-parent/two-child household where both parents are working full-time is $17.22. Of the 10 fastest growing jobs in Portage County, eight fall below or very near to the living wage for the county, including: Personal Care Aide at $10.38/hour, Food Prep and Service at $9.09/hour, and Retail Salesperson at $10.22/hour.

The median household income in Portage County is $50,000, Patoka said, noting this is below the Wisconsin median of $55,638 and the national median of $59,039.

She also said that income inequality in Wisconsin is at its highest level since the Great Depression. “In Portage County, the average income of the top 1 percent is $725,393 and the average income of the remaining 99 percent is $45,111,” said Patoka. “Women continue to earn $.65 on the dollar relative to their male counterparts.”

Patoka noted the community could address this issue by:

  • Supporting and advancing strategies that increase income, reduce expenses and build assets
  • Leveraging community resources that exist
  • Advanced education equates to greater earning power for county residents
  • Comparing pay to competitors both inside and outside the community
  • Supporting local businesses and entrepreneurship
  • Advocating for affordable housing
Affordable Housing

Patoka said Portage County will grow by 10 percent between 2010 and 2040, with Stevens Point growing by 13 percent and Plover by 22 percent. As a result, 2,800 new housing units will be needed, including 1,771 units in Stevens Point and 26 percent more in Plover.

In order to afford this housing in Portage County, one needs a wage of $13.73/hour to afford a two-bedroom unit, and $17.31/hour for a three-bedroom unit, said Patoka.

“Our residents are housing cost-burdened,” said Patoka. “57 percent of renters in Stevens Point pay over 30 percent of household income for housing costs and 73.3 percent of households with pre-tax incomes between $15,000 and $24,999 spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing. For those 45-54, 52.7 percent paid more than 30 percent of their income.” Of LIFE Community Survey respondents, 42.9 percent are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Housing options are limited, said Patoka. “Over 70 percent of rental units in the county have rents of $500 to $750 and the Stevens Point Housing Authority has a 10-month wait list for extremely low income households and a three-year wait list for very low-income households,” she said.

Patoka said action can be taken on the issue by:

  • Growing resources and access to affordable financing so families can maintain homes, particularly older housing stock
  • Creating more affordable housing units, focused on those with household incomes at or below 50 percent of the area median income
  • Ensuring seniors have the ability, when possible, to age in place, whether in their own homes or the communities in which they have lived


Kellogg said now that the report is complete, the real work can begin. “In terms of next steps, we are working on identifying backbone organizations for each of the Calls to Action that will be responsible for taking the lead in moving efforts forward,” she said. “We know that there are no simple solutions to these issues.  They are all complex and multifaceted. They are not issues that can be effectively dealt with quickly – in fact, many will take years to begin to see an impact. But we know that if we work together and we are persistent and committed, we can collectively and collaboratively work to continue progress in these areas.”

Kellogg said people could volunteer, advocate, and talk about the importance of these issues, with your friends, your families, your legislators, and your co-workers.  “We will begin collecting the names of people and organizations who are already committed to these areas,” she said. “We will bring together the current community partners, resources and organizations working on these topics along with others who are interested in addressing a Call to Action.   A formalized process is being developed to move the issues forward, which is anticipated to begin in early 2018.

“The LIFE Report process has provided a better understanding of issues impacting the quality of life in Portage County. Now we must move toward mobilizing action to create positive change within our community,” said Kellogg.


Members of the LIFE Report Steering Committee include Kathy Davies, Erin Andrews, Angie Heuck, Candise Miller, Cindy Piotrowski, Marty Skibba, Tara Draeger, Todd Kuckkahn, Mae Nachman, Nathan Sandwick, Steve Smith, Gary Garske, Patsy Mbughuni, Randy Neve, Jeff Schuler, Sue Wilcox, and Angie Kellogg.

LIFE Report sponsors include: Partners – Ascension Saint Michael’s Hospital, Aspirus, Portage County Government, Portage County Health & Human Services, United Way of Portage County; Sponsors – Marshfield Clinic Health System, Ascension Medical Group; Supporters – Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan; and Friends – Wisconsin Public Service Foundation.

Other contributors include Spectra Print, JHL Digital Direct, Robert Enright, David Chunyu, Brianna Chipman, Barb Portzen, Sierra Bethea, Deanna Deising, Dan Dieterich, Mark Hilliker, Chris Sadler, John Hartman, Becca Greening, and SentryWorld.


Physical copies of the 2017 LIFE Report are available at United Way of Portage County, 1100 Centerpoint Drive, Stevens Point, or at the links on the top of this page. For more information, call 715-341-6740 or email uway@unitedwaypoco.org.