Economy, education on minds of Alamance County residents

SUMMARY AND RESULTS

A lack of jobs and good wages top a list of concerns Alamance County residents expressed about their community in a survey conducted this winter by the Elon University Poll, yet worries about economic issues have somewhat diminished over the past three years as the national economy continues its recovery from the effects of the housing market collapse.

The Alamance County Community Assessment Survey was part of ongoing efforts by Elon University and the Elon University Poll to contribute to the health and well being of surrounding communities.

Conducted in collaboration with the United Way of Alamance County, Healthy Alamance, the Alamance County Health Department and the Alamance Regional Medical Center, the live-caller telephone poll surveyed 744 Alamance County residents from Feb. 21-23, 2014. The poll has a margin of error of 3.58 percentage points. The sample of adult residents of Alamance County was obtained by calling both landline and cell phones.

Its convenience and location, its people and its size were the three items that topped the list of the “best thing about living in Alamance County.” The three items listed for being the worst things about living in the county: Jobs and wages, a lack of activities or shopping, and “nothing.”

JOBS and ECONOMY

Twenty-one percent of respondents felt that jobs, employment and wages were the most important issues facing Alamance County today. Three years ago in a similar poll, that number stood at 38 percent.

“Although the economy was considered the most important issue in Alamance County by most residents in both 2011 and 2014, there was a noticeable decline in the number of people mentioning economic conditions this year,” said Assistant Professor Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll. “This seems to be a clear response to recent improvements in economic conditions around the county.”

Other indicators suggest that the economy is still negatively impacting many lives. Forty-eight percent of respondents in the latest poll have had to cut back on food purchases due to cost - a figure that hasn’t changed in three years - and 91 percent said that poverty remains an “important” or “very important” issue confronting the county.

Homelessness was cited by 85 percent of respondents as another important concern.

EDUCATION

Education followed jobs/employment on the list of most important issues facing Alamance County and poll respondents were lukewarm about the quality of local schools. When asked to grade the performance of the public school system, 34 percent gave a “B” and 36 percent gave a “C.” Just 10 percent of respondents thought schools worthy of an “A” grade.

The bigger problem facing Alamance County’s public schools is their lack of resources, respondents said. Fifty-nine percent believe the schools don’t have enough resources, compared to 26 percent who believe schools don’t do enough with resources already in place. Those perceptions broke along gender lines. Sixty-five percent of women said schools lacked resources compared to just 51 percent of men.

Regarding alternatives to public schools, 64 percent of respondents signaled their support of homeschooling.

“Besides determining which candidate is currently in the lead during an election, survey research can help us assess the health and needs of a community,” said Assistant Professor Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll. “This survey is a unique project which attempts to uncover the most important policy issues facing the residents of Alamance County.

“It is our hope policymakers use this information to inform their decisions on the types of services needed in this community.”

HEALTH CARE

One out of five residents reported not being able to get dental care, or knowing someone who couldn’t get dental care when needed over the past year, with 79 percent pointing to a lack of insurance or cost as the reason.

About one out of 10 respondents said the same for mental health care and for similar reasons. Of those who needed help but couldn’t get it, 60 percent said it was due to lack of insurance or cost considerations.

Half of respondents said they know a close friend or relative dealing with a mental health issue.

OTHER COMMUNITY CONCERNS EXPRESSED IN THE SURVEY:

• Nearly a quarter of all residents either know a family member of a close friend who has been a victim of domestic violence in the past year; 10 percent know someone who has been raped or sexually abused.

• Almost all respondents feel at least somewhat safe living in the county, with a majority indicating they feel “very safe.”

• Forty-four percent of respondents know a close friend or family member who lacks reliable transportation.

• A majority of respondents - 57 percent - said the government should spend more money on benefits for the poor. Twenty-four percent thought the government should spent less, and 9 percent volunteered a response that levels should stay about the same.

• Fifty-nine percent of respondents know a close friend or family member who has no health insurance.