A lot can change in three years.

The last Missoula City-County Health Department Community Health Assessment came out in 2014 and some of the differences outlined in its new draft, released Wednesday, are striking.

One of the most eye-popping changes is the fact that the number of legal child abuse and neglect cases filed in Missoula County more than doubled in the last five years, while the number of children in foster care rose at the same rate.

But, let’s start with the good.

Unemployment rates have dropped in Missoula County, from about 4 percent in 2014 to a little over 3 percent. Montana as a whole has stayed flat at 4 percent.

Transportation is as diverse as it's ever been in Missoula, though 71 percent of Missoulians still drive alone to work. But Mountain Line’s free fare has more than doubled its ridership (to nearly 1.5 million rides a year) and the almost 10 percent of people who walk or bike to work is much higher than the rest of the state and three times as high as the entire United States.

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Jessi Guardipee walks away from the bus at the Mountain Line Transfer Center in this file photo from 2015. Although 71 percent of Missoulians still drive alone to work, Mountain Line’s free fare has more than doubled its ridership to nearly 1.5 million rides a year, according to the Missoula City-County Health Department Community Health Assessment released Wednesday.

No surprise, but Missoula, home to the University of Montana, remains a highly educated area, with 40 percent earning a bachelor’s degree or higher and 95 percent having a high school diploma.

Curiously, Missoula lags behind the rest of the state and the country for kindergarten, elementary and high school enrollment, though college enrollment (again, no surprise) far outstrips the rest of the state — 44 percent to 26 percent.

Starting off some of the bad news is another no-duh assessment: Housing is extremely unaffordable in Missoula. Its median home price is $255,000 and its median home value of $239,700 is more than $60,000 above the national median of $179,600.

"The tight housing market causes an undue proportion of Missoula County households to be 'cost burdened,' defined as paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, or 'severely cost burdened,' paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing,'' the report reads.

The housing affordability index, which calculates home affordability for a person making the median income of $42,000, has sloped sharply downward since the recession.

Missoula city and county also have significant pockets of poverty, including some areas with deep generational poverty, according to maps included with the assessment.

The Heart of Missoula and Riverfront neighborhoods had the highest poverty rates in town, at 40 percent and 35 percent respectively, though the Fairviews-Pattee Canyon area had the highest rate of generational poverty (consistent over at least two decades).

Poverty in the county as a whole is worst up the Seeley-Swan valley, with nearly everything north of Clearwater Junction in the 15-25 percent poverty range.

The last of the survey’s most significant findings involve children: The number of legal cases filed regarding child abuse and neglect has nearly tripled since 2011, with 220 cases filed in 2016, compared to 74 in 2011. However, the number reported has only risen by around 25 percent.

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City, County Government Reporter

Government reporter for the Missoulian.