Rockford has struggled with high unemployment and crime rates during the last few decades. Once known as an industrial manufacturing powerhouse, the decline of industry contributed to economic and social issues. But now the city is experiencing a renewal and city officials are actively improving the quality of life for its citizens. And Rockford is experiencing success. Crime rates are dropping consistently, and median home prices are rising. Niche.com rates Rockford #29 out of 228 cities with the lowest cost of living in the US. The unemployment rate reached a high of over 10% in January 2017 but currently stands at 5.2%. Much of the success is due to increasing the function and use of its international airport and increased production at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Belvidere Assembly Plant.
If you’re an outdoor buff, you’ll love the city’s northern Illinois location and a plethora of things to do outside. Its location on the Rock River gives you access to canoeing, boating, and fishing, and you’ll find many hiking trails around the area as well. Rockford is rated #103 of the best cities for outdoor activities in the country, according to Niche.com. Indoor activities are also plentiful with museums, concert venues, and more. Rockford does have a lot to offer its residents, and it’s encouraging to see the recent improvements in job prospects and increased economic success adding to the quality of life for its residents.
Living in Rockford, IL: What to Know Before Moving to Rockford
Rockford is the third-largest city in Illinois and is the largest city outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. Many of the 147,051 residents have suffered from declining employment opportunities – a situation which created all sorts of economic and social problems in the past. But the community has stayed strong, and city officials are enthusiastic about bringing Rockford back to the prosperous city it once was. The qualified community effort focuses on nine key areas for improvement: economy, education, employment, neighborhoods, talent, wellness, equity, diversity, and safety.
Because Rockford is beginning to thrive, it’s a good time to move here. You’ll find the cost of living is low, housing is affordable, and the area is continuing to become safer each year. Rockford seems to be making a turn for the better. With all the city has to offer, it’s encouraging to see such a strong and committed effort to making Rockford one of the best places to live in Illinois.
Pros and Cons of Living in Rockford
- A recent improvement in employment opportunities
- Low cost of living
- Abundant recreational activities
- The local government dedicated to economy and lifestyle improvements
- High crime rate
- High Illinois state taxes
- High poverty rate
- Higher than average unemployment rate
- Property tax: The Winnebago County property tax is 3.003%. Based on a $94,000 home, you’d pay $2,823 in annual property taxes. The only other state with higher property taxes is New Jersey.
- Sales tax: The Rockford sales tax rate is 8.3%. The US average sales tax is 7.3%.
- State income tax: The average Illinois income tax rate is 5.0%. The US average income tax is 4.6%. The state legislature has proposed and passed a new graduated income tax rate, which would raise the rate for high earning residents even further. This rate could become effective in 2020 if voters approve the proposal.
As of December 2019, the median home value in Rockford was $93,650, and the median list price was $104,900. According to zillow.com, home values rose 2.3% in 2019 and are forecast to go up 0.7% in 2020. 55% of residents live in owner-occupied homes, lower than the national average of 63.9% living in owner-occupied homes.
The median rent price is $895. At least 45% of residents live in rental properties. If you’re looking for the most affordable housing options, check out these Rockford suburbs: South Beloit, Winnebago, and Rockton.
Cost of Living
Sperling’s bestplaces.net rates Rockford’s cost of living index at 79.6. This index is based on a US average of 100; therefore, the cost of living in Rockford is lower than the national average. Lower than average costs include transportation at 91.3, grocery at 88.7, and housing at 43.2. The cost of utilities, at 99.2, is extremely close to the US average. Health costs, at 111.8, are higher than the US average.
The Economic Policy Institute family budget calculator reports that a Rockport family of four would need an annual income of $80,280, or $6,690 monthly, to achieve a modest standard of living.
Weather and Natural Disasters
Rockford residents enjoy a four-season climate; a quick look at usclimatedata.com will give you the average temperatures for each month. The year starts off quite chilly as January’s average high is 29 °F. Lows average 13 °F, and the average annual snowfall is 37 inches. The wind chill factor can make the temperature feel much lower, so be prepared with all your winter gear when moving to Rockford – you’re going to need it.
The weather will stay cold until March when the average high warms to 47 °F and lows average 28 °F, but by May the average high is 72 °F, and the lows average 48 °F. It usually rains quite a bit in April and May with 3.3 inches on average in April and 4 inches in May. The average annual rainfall is 36 inches.
June brings a wet summer where you’ll experience more rain during this month than in early spring. The average rainfall for June is 4.65 inches. But you’ll also have some beautiful days full of sunshine and warmth. The average high for June is 81 °F, with average lows of 59 °F. July and August are usually hot and humid. Rockford averages July highs of 85 °F and 82 °F for August. Heatwaves with a few days over 90 °F aren’t uncommon during these months. And watch out for summer storms. They can be dangerous, with lightning and flooding arriving quickly.
You’ll enjoy a mild fall with September highs averaging 75 °F and highs in October of 63 °F. The changing leaf color is breathtaking, with vibrant hues of red, gold, orange, and yellow. Enjoy this season as the cold returns in November with average highs of 48 °F and lows of 30 °F. By December, those numbers go down to an average high of 33 °F and 18 °F for the low.
The biggest natural disasters threats come from flooding, tornadoes, and winter blizzards. The Rockford Register Star features this article in which you can see videos and photos of the 2019 Spring floods. USA.com reports a tornado index for Rockford of 141.79. Although this is lower than the state index of 220.15, it’s still a significant threat. Locals are used to tornado threats and know when to take cover. If you’re moving to the area, make sure you become familiar with the Rockford emergency services plan so you can stay safe.
Economy and The Job Market
Niche.com gives Rockford a C+ grade for employment. Currently, the median household income is $41,991, which is lower than the national household median income of $55,322. The unemployment rate was 5.2% as of July 2019 and is steadily improving.
The job market strengthens as Fiat Chrysler, Rockford’s largest employer, adds workers. The Chicago-Rockford International Airport has added hundreds of employees as well. The jet repair and cargo businesses are booming, and the outlook for further growth is positive. There’s a wide-ranging community plan to better the region in all areas called Transform Rockford. If you’re moving to Rockford, be sure to look into this. This community plan intends to make Rockford one of the top 25 cities in which to live by the year 2025. Seeing their city on lists such as “Most Miserable Cities in Which to Live” was the impetus for this planned transformation. They didn’t want to accept the designation and have a dedicated effort to “transform our region from within.”
Some of the top job sectors are: Advanced manufacturing which employs 22% of area workers; healthcare and social assistance, employing 15% of residents; retail trade, employing 11%; accommodation and food service, employing 9% of the population; educational services which employs 6%; and administrative, support, and waste management also employing about 6% of Rockford residents.
The Rockford Area Economic Development Council is also hard at work marketing the region, and employers are finding the low cost of locating here very beneficial. If you’re searching for a job in this area, you may want to try Illinois Job Link. You can access this job search site by clicking here.
Traffic and Transportation
Many interstates, federal roads, and state highways serve Rockford, making it very easy to travel into and out of the area. Interstate highways serving Rockford are I-39, I-88, I-90, and I-43. Federal highways include US 20 and US 51/251. The city has an Amtrak train station as well as the Rockford-Chicago International Airport. This growing airport is undergoing a $20 million terminal expansion with daily flights around the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Rockford is located about 60 miles from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a major international hub.
The Rockford Mass Transit District provides public transportation throughout the city and into some of the neighboring towns. They operate 17 routes Monday through Saturday business hours, six night routes, and five Sunday routes. You can access the public transportation schedule and more information by clicking here.
The average commute time for Rockford residents is 23 minutes, slightly below the national average of 26.4 minutes. Most people, 84%, drive their own car to work, and only 1% use public transportation. Walkscore.com gives Rockford a walking score of 42 and claims it’s a car-dependent city, as most errands and commutes will require the use of a car. The most walkable neighborhoods in the city are downtown, Coronado Haskell, and Ethnic Village.
Things to Do
No matter what you like to do in your free time, you’ll find Rockford has plenty to do. From museums and theater to historic houses and gardens, from beautiful parks to exciting river activities, there’s something for everyone.
If you happen to be a nature lover, the great outdoors provides endless things to keep you busy. There are many lovely local parks and gardens to peruse. Some of them are:
- Anderson Japanese Gardens – Click here to see this 12-acre tranquil Japanese garden and view their upcoming events.
- Rock Cut State Park – This Illinois State Park has everything for the outdoor lover, including camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and more.
- Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens –This is the third largest conservatory in Illinois and is full of tropical flora and an outdoor lagoon, walking paths, and water fountains.
- Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden – Find yourself among the trees at this beautiful arboretum and be sure to check out their schedule of events by clicking here.
- Rockford Park District – Take a look at all this excellent park district has to offer, both indoor and outdoor.
History lovers will enjoy some of Rockford’s attractions, such as:
- Burpee Museum of Natural History – You’ll find dinosaurs and a whole lot more at the Burpee Museum.
- Midway Village Museum – You’ll find not only historic artifacts here but also a living Victorian-era village.
- Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens – This historic house dates from 1865.
- Laurent House – Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s only handicapped accessible design offers weekend tours and private tours with advanced notice. Click here for more.
Families with children will love both indoor and outdoor activities at these local venues:
- Discovery Center Museum – Science equals fun at this exceptional venue.
- Six Flags Magic Waters Waterpark – You’ll find water slides, a wave pool, and so much more at this fun waterpark.
- Volcano Falls Adventure Park – Get your game on with miniature golf, laser tag, and more at Volcano Falls.
For art and theater buffs, Rockford is home to these fine venues:
- Rockford Art Museum – View modern and contemporary art or take some classes at the Rockford Art Museum.
- Coronado Performing Arts Center – This venue hosts all sorts of performances from the symphony to Broadway shows.
- Starlight Theater at Rock Valley College – Watch talented young performers at this local theater.
Be sure to take a look at the BMO Harris Bank Center’s schedule. You’ll find all sorts of exciting concert and sports productions at this entertainment center, which is also home to the Rockford IceHogs. Rockford is also home to a lively nightlife and restaurant scene. You’ll find many fine local establishments as well as all of the popular chain restaurants.
Schools and Universities
Rockford Public Schools is one of the largest public school districts in Illinois and is the second-largest employer in the region. It has 42 schools spread throughout the city. Click here for greatschools.org Rockford schools and ratings. Private School Review has this list of the top local private schools, both religious and secular.
Rock Valley College is the local community college, and Rockford University is a four-year institution enrolling approximately 1,300 students. St. Anthony College of Nursing offers an exceptional nursing program.
Areavibes.com gives a good picture of what crime is like in Rockford, and unfortunately, it’s not good. The overall rating is an ‘F’; 88% higher than the national average. Violent crime is 72 compared to 23 for the US average. Property crime is 57 compared to 35 for the US average. Be sure to view the Area Vibes or bestplaces.net crime map to find the safest areas of the city when deciding where to live; as with most cities, some areas are much safer than others.
- Electricity: Com Ed provides electricity. You can access them by clicking on the link or call them at 1-800-EDISON-1 (1-800-334-7661). Spark Energy also provides electrical service. Call 1-877-54-SPARK Monday through Friday, 8 am to 7 pm, or Saturday, 9 am to 12 pm central time.
- Gas: Spark Energy also supplies natural gas service. Call 1-877-54-SPARK Monday through Friday, 8 am to 7 pm, or Saturday, 9 am to 12 pm central time. Nicor also provides gas service, and their phone number is 888-642-6748.
- Water: For water service provided by the City of Rockford, call 779-348-7300.
- Trash pick-up/recycling service: The City of Rockford contracts sanitation, solid waste, and recycling service through Rock River Disposal Services. You can reach them at 815-965-2489.
- Internet and cable: Go to highspeedinternet.com, enter your new zip code, and you’ll see a list of Rockford internet and cable providers, their plans, and rates.
Best Neighborhoods in Rockford, Illinois
This classic neighborhood sits on the beautiful tree-lined streets of Rock River’s west bank. Click here to find the neighborhood association’s web page where you’ll be able to see the array of community activities and events, plus learn when the association holds its monthly meetings. Attending a meeting is a great time to introduce yourself, get a sense of the community, and ask questions about the neighborhood.
You’ll find a mixture of historic home styles such as Victorian, American Tudor, Dutch Colonial, and Edwardian. Twenty-four of the homes have historic preservation status.
The Churchill’s Grove neighborhood is bordered on the east by the Rock River, on the west by North Main St, on the north by Auburn St, and on the south by Franklin Place. The Edgewater neighborhood lies immediately to the north and Signal Hill and North End Square to the west. The area is somewhat walkable with a score of 50 and a 70 bike score.
- Population – 1,676
- Median Rental – $700
- Median Home Value – $73,502
- Schools – Elementary: Westview Elementary, (greatschools rating 2/10), Walker Elementary (not rated); Middle School: West Middle School 2/10; High School: Guilford 2/10.
The downtown area, or River District, is experiencing an active revitalization that’s helping make it a safe and attractive place to live, work, and play. A unique concept that attracts locals to the area is the idea of parklets – the seasonal use of parking spaces for café seating or a place where people can gather and enjoy an activity along downtown streets.
Crime rates in this area have traditionally been high, but recent local government efforts have made them less so, and the neighborhood is continuing to improve. Click here to read about the future plans from the River District Association. You’ll be able to enjoy walking and biking downtown, confirmed by walk and bike scores of 88 and 83, respectively. A fun and entertaining way to learn more about Rockford is to take a River District Association sponsored walking and bike tour with a renowned architect who highlights the area’s architectural history.
- Population – 2,480
- Median Rental – $387
- Median Home Value – $125,761
- Schools – Elementary: C Henry Bloom (greatschools Rating 3/10), John Nelson (3/10), Kishwaukee (1/10); Middle School: Eisenhower (3/10), Abraham Lincoln (2/10), Kennedy (1/10); High School: Auburn (5/10), Guilford (2/10), Rockford East (2/10)
If you’re looking for a great family home, you might want to explore East Rockford. This community is a conglomerate of smaller neighborhoods, all of which are popular with families. The median home value is higher here than most of the neighborhoods in the city but you can still find that perfect house, townhouse, or rental at a fair price.
The median household income in East Rockford, at $61,600, is substantially higher than Rockford’s general median household income of $39.537. This area, established around 1834, sits to the east of Rock River between Route 251 and I-90.
- Population – 43,815
- Median Rental – $799
- Median Home Value – $168,752
- Schools – Elementary: Brookview (greatschools Rating 6/10), Maude E Johnson (5/10), Spring Creek (4/10), Loves Park (4/10), Clifford P Carlson (3/10); Middle School: Eisenhower (3/10), Abraham Lincoln (2/10); High School: Guilford (2/10)
You’ll find this neighborhood on Rockford’s northwest side, along the west bank of Rock River, north of Auburn St. The extensive Greenwood Cemetery fills the middle of the neighborhood. Edgewater is a historic neighborhood with well-kept single-family homes and multi-unit dwellings along pretty tree-lined streets.
You’ll also have access to the multi-use path and other riverside amenities. There’s a very active neighborhood association that sponsors year-round events, so if you’re looking for a neighborhood with a sense of community, this may be it. The walk score is only 33, so unless you use public transportation, you’ll need a car to run errands and commute; the bike score is 43. Some popular spots with locals are The Olympic Tavern, Pino’s on Main Pizza, and Mulligans.
- Population – 2,307
- Median Rental – $815
- Median Home Value – $57,631
- Schools – Welsh Elementary School, Roosevelt High School
Haight Village is a few blocks southeast of downtown. This neighborhood is a National Register Historic District and is the only residential community to receive this status in the city. In this 13 block area, you’ll find a unique combination of urban living among elegant 100- to 150-year-old homes in various styles, mainly Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Prairie, and Gothic. Click here for the historic district’s website.
The area lies east of Rock River and bounds South Madison, Walnut, and Kishwaukee Streets, and to the south, the railroad. You’ll be able to complete many errands on foot as Haight Village has a great walk score of 88.
- Population – 283
- Median Rental – $386
- Median Home Value – $125,761
- Schools – Elementary: Kishwaukee (1/10); Middle School: Abraham Lincoln (2/10); Rockford East (2/10)
North End Square
North End Square is another historic neighborhood bordered by North Main, Auburn, Fulton, and Ridge Streets. You’ll find well-kept homes, lovely tree-lined streets, and a thriving collection of quaint shops, cafes, restaurants, and grocers. The homes in North End Square have a lot of character and are mostly vintage Dutch Colonials, bungalows, and cottages dating from 80 to 100 years ago.
North End Square is the 11th most walkable neighborhood in Rockford with a walk score of 52 and a bike score of 44. With the vibrant business district providing lots of amenities, you’ll be able to run a number of your errands and enjoy well-prepared meals in local restaurants directly within the neighborhood.
- Population – 3,134
- Median Rental – $687
- Median Home Value – $62,739
- Schools – Elementary: R K Welsh (1/10); Middle School: West (2/10), Guilford (2/10)
The Spring Creek neighborhood lies along Spring Creek and North Alpine Roads on the northeast side of the city. Construction began in the 1940s and continued throughout the rest of the 20th century. Due to this, you’ll find a wide variety of home types and sizes in this mainly residential neighborhood. However, you’ll find some amenities south of Spring Brook Rd. The Frank Lloyd Wright Laurent House is on the west side of Spring Creek.
Many of the homes are on the pricier side for Rockford, and the median household income of $75,690 is much higher than the general Rockford median household income of $39,537. Around 62% of Spring Creek households are married-couple families. You’ll need a car if you live here as the walk score is only 13. Population – 10,024
- Median Rental – $813
- Median Home Value – $297,102
- Schools – Elementary: Clifford P Carlson (greatschool rating 3/10), Spring Creek Elementary School; Middle School: Eisenhower (3/10); High Schools: Guilford (2/10), Auburn (5/10)
Summerfield Commons is bordered by North Perryville Road on the west, Route 51 on the east, East Riverside Boulevard on the northern edge, and Olde Creek Road on the south. This community is another popular neighborhood for families with a mid-priced range of homes. Most homes were built within the last 20 to 30 years and have three to four bedrooms.
Several amenities are conveniently available within the neighborhood; Meg’s Daily Grind, Starbucks, and Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que are popular spots with locals. You’ll also find Mercyhealth Urgent Care-Perryville and the Swedish American Regional Cancer Center here. However, you’ll need a car in Summerfield Commons as walkscore.com gives this neighborhood a walking score of 36 but a bike-friendly score of 62.
- Population – 805
- Median Rental – $1,030
- Median Home Value – $132,204
- Schools – Elementary: Spring Creek (4/10); Middle School: Eisenhower (3/10); High School: Guilford (2/10)
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