Elon Poll: Economy taking toll on Alamance County

The economy trumps all other issues facing Alamance County, with the effects of a prolonged downturn impacting the social, health and behavioral well being of its residents, according to the latest Elon University Poll. Poll director Hunter Bacot joined with leaders from the United Way of Alamance County and from Healthy Alamance on Tuesday to share findings in a midday news conference from campus.

The effects of the poor economy are evident across citizen perspectives:

• 64 percent of citizens indicate that they know a family member or close friend that does not have enough money to pay their bills
• 44 percent of citizens indicate that when shopping for groceries their top priorities are ‘the price of food’ and ‘what is on sale that week’
• 47 percent of citizen have cut back on the food they buy for their household

The poll, conducted March 6-10, 2011, surveyed 846 Alamance County adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. The sample is of the population in general, with numbers that include both landlines and cellular phones. The poll does not restrict respondents by voter eligibility or likelihood of voting.

The March 2011 survey was part of an ongoing effort by Elon University to participate in its surrounding communities. The collaboration involved the United Way of Alamance County, Healthy Alamance, Alamance Regional Medical Center and the Alamance County Health Department.

“It is not surprising that many people citied issues related to the recent economy, but it is still astounding to me that 64 percent of people surveyed have a family member or close friend who does not have enough money to pay their bills and 20 percent know someone who is homeless or about to lose their home,” said Alamance County United Way president Cindy Brady. “The results from this opinion survey, coupled with statistical data from a variety of sources, will help guide the community in determining important priorities and where citizens can have the most impact.”

The economic hardship of this recession has affected citizens’ well being as more than half of respondents indicate basic health or dental care is unaffordable. Residents are taking measures to conserve their resources with regard to health care.

• 76 percent of citizens identify access to health care as very important to the overall well-being of people in Alamance County
• 57 percent of citizens indicate that they know a family member or close friend that has no health insurance
• 25 percent of citizens know of someone who has had to split their pills to make medication last longer
• 18 percent of citizens indicated there was a time in the past year when they or a family member needed dental care but could not get it, and 74 percent of these people did not have dental insurance, or simply could not afford to go to the dentist
• 18 percent of citizens identified ‘access to health care’ as the most important health issue, and another 7 percent identified ‘lack of health insurance’ as the most important health issue

“It is clear that access to health care and lack of health insurance are common themes throughout the poll, but this is not surprising due to the current gloomy state of economy and job market,” said Healthy Alamance coordinator April Durr. “It also was noteworthy that obesity and chronic diseases are an important health issue in Alamance County. A third of people consider the health of the food they are purchasing when grocery shopping, and two thirds report exercising at least two and a half hours each week.

“This was encouraging to see, since Healthy Alamance has put a great deal of effort into obesity prevention over the past several years.”

Durr said the poll data is the first step in an assessment process that will be used in a comprehensive report to be completed by late 2011. She said that once the assessment process is complete, community partners would be able to determine health priorities that reflect a broad base of input.

A sense of community is apparent among citizens. Sixty-eight percent of citizens say they feel ‘very safe’ in their neighborhood. Across a host of questions about relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, most citizens indicate they can depend on these people as a personal safety net.

• 65 percent say they have someone to confide in if worried about an important personal matter
• 61 percent say there is somebody that would help care for them if they were sick
• 53 percent say they can find someone who would take them where you needed to go if they couldn’t use their car or usual way of getting around
• 56 percent say they have somebody they can trust to help them solve their problems.
• 46 percent say they can always get help around the house without having to pay them

Other challenging community issues emerging from this assessment include:

• Concern over drug abuse and drunk driving (which were identified as the two most prevalent risky behaviors)
• High cost of childcare
• Prevalence of elder care (by family members or relatives)
• Disposal practices for unused medications (household garbage & toilet)