The Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College released the findings of the 22nd Annual Jefferson County Survey of the Community at a General Services Committee meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators on Tuesday, June 15, 2021.
The survey is an annual inventory of the attitudes and opinions of a representative sample of Jefferson County adult residents, and has been completed by the Center annually in the county since 2000. The primary goal of the survey is to collect data regarding quality-of-life issues of importance to local citizens, and as a result this study provides an annual “snapshot” of life in Jefferson County. Additionally, the analysis of the 22nd Annual Survey data provides an information-rich “motion-picture” of changes in the lives of county residents over the past twenty-two years as trends are investigated via comparing with earlier-year results. Further, a similar study has been completed annually by the Center for Community Studies in Lewis County since 2007, and in St. Lawrence County since 2015. Both of these neighboring counties were last surveyed in October 2020, and as a result, current regional North Country county-level comparisons are also addressed.
A mixed-mode sampling design was employed in this study to complete a total of 503 interviews of adult residents of the county. Working under the supervision of the Center for Community Studies research staff in a virtual/remote call center, statistics students at the College completed 188 telephone interviews on both the landline and cellular phones of Jefferson County adult residents on the evenings of April 5-7, 2021. An additional 251 surveys were completed online by Jefferson County adult residents after random opt-in email invitations to participate. Finally, to accurately represent the military-affiliated subpopulation in the county, an additional 64 residents were intercept-sampled on post at Fort Drum on April 13, 2021. The result of this sampling of a total of 503 county residents is an approximate margin of error of ±4.6% after weighting sample survey results toward Jefferson County population characteristics, including the design effect.
Highlights of the 2021 Jefferson County survey include:
1. Quality-of-Life Community Indicators in Jefferson County
Over the past two decades over 20 community indicators have been tracked and analyzed via this survey project with each measured on an annual or biennial basis. In 2021 thirteen of these indicators were studied and while the majority of results were similar to past years’ findings, the following five community indicators had notably different results in 2021 when compared to the past:
- 69% of participants rated “Access to Higher Education” as “Excellent or Good”, the most positively rated community indicator among the 13 studied in 2021.
- 66% of participants rated “Health Care Access” as “Excellent or Good”, the highest percentage ever found for this indicator (was only 41% in 2009).
- In 2021 the following three indicators had their least positive results ever found, as defined by the greatest rate of responding “Poor” ever measured for each indicator: “Availability of Behavioral Health Services” (21% of participants rated as “Poor”), “Availability of Childcare” (18% rated as “Poor”), and “County Government” (17% rated as “Poor”).
2. Personal Opinions Regarding Statewide and Local Community Issues
In an attempt to better understand the communities and residents of the North Country, a series of twelve personal opinion survey items that are all directly related to current state and local issues has been studied for the first time in 2021. The list of far-ranging topics of: role of government, access to technology, the environment, sexual harassment in the workplace, legalized gambling, legalized recreational marijuana use and sales, corrections policy, COVID-19 vaccination mandates, police reform, state income taxation, and economic development – all issues about which state and local leaders must make decisions. Among the twelve studied issues, a clear statistically significant majority opinion has been found for the following eight:
- 82% of participants agree that “Legislation should be passed to ensure good cell phone service and internet access for rural New York State residents much like the way they provided electricity in rural areas in the 1930s”, while only 7% disagree.
- 61% of participants disagree that “With required sexual harassment training for all workers in New York State, sexual harassment is not a major issue”, while only 21% agree.
- 58% of participants agree that “New York State should raise the taxes of the state's highest income earners to maintain current state services rather than cutting some of the current services”, while only 30% disagree.
- 56% of participants agree that “COVID-19 vaccinations should be required for college students taking courses in person on college campuses in New York State”, while only 35% disagree.
- 53% of participants agree that “Police reform in New York State is needed to reduce unnecessary use of lethal force and race-based bias and to track patterns of profiling based on race and ethnicity”, while only 31% disagree.
- 52% of participants disagree that “Small businesses should be subject to market conditions and should not be protected by government funding”, while only 25% agree.
- 47% of participants disagree that “Local zoning boards should pass zoning ordinances to prevent the legal sale of marijuana in my town, city, or village”, while only 36% agree.
- 44% of participants disagree that “Currently each county in New York State has its own jail; for economic reasons it would be a good idea for rural counties to share a single jail”, while only 32% agree.
A portion of the dominant opinions found among the twelve studied issues include those which are typically considered as conservative stances, while others are those which are typically considered as more moderate or somewhat liberal stances. The 2021 sample results regarding self-described political ideology of the 503 participants has paralleled that which has recurred virtually every year of study, with 31% identifying as “conservative”, 42% as “middle of the road”, 12% as “liberal”, and 15% “unsure.”
3. Personal Financial Situations
Currently 78% of residents indicate that their personal financial situation has remained the same or improved in the past year (17% improved, the remainder stayed the same), while 19% indicate that this situation has gotten worse. Not unexpectedly, given the global pandemic of 2020-2021, the rate of expressing “gotten better” in the past two years (17% in 2021, and only 13% in 2020) are the lowest measured since 2012 in the county.
4. Optimism Locally, But Not So Much Nationally
Jefferson County residents continue to be optimistic about the “direction that things are heading” locally – 41% believe that things in the county are headed in the right direction while only 26% believe that things are headed in the wrong direction. On statewide and nationwide bases, however, this optimism reduces – only 22% believe that things in the state are headed in the right direction while 55% believe that things are headed in the wrong direction, and only 26% believe that things in the country are headed in the right direction while 50% believe that things are headed in the wrong direction.
5. Perceived Current Severity of COVID-19 as an Issue Facing Our Nation
For the past two iterations of this annual survey participants were asked to identify the largest issue currently facing our nation and a dramatic shift has transpired between 2020 and 2021. In 2020, the most common response was “Coronavirus” at 45%, followed by “Jobs and the Economy” at 23%. Results almost exactly reversed in 2021 with a current most common response of “Jobs and the Economy” at 39%, followed by “Coronavirus” at 21%.
6. COVID-19 Impact on the Food Industry
Jefferson County adult residents were surveyed in 2021 regarding the potential impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their (1) eating habits, and (2) food security. Key findings in April 2021 include that residents are far more likely to indicate that they will cook at home more (rather than less) once restaurants are permitted to run at 100% capacity. Additionally, residents are more likely to look for locally sourced foods as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Further, after the pandemic the majority of residents (53%) report that they are willing to pay a premium for locally produced agricultural products (only 25% indicate that they would not pay this premium). Key findings related to food security include that approximately one-in-six residents (16%) report that during the pandemic they were worried that they would run out of food before they got money to buy more, and about one-in-four residents used community support food programs during the pandemic (most commonly, 22% used community food drive-thru pickups).
Funding for this annual survey of the North Country communities is provided by Jefferson Community College, the Northern New York Community Foundation, the Development Authority of the North Country, and CarFreshner Corporation.
The entire final report of study findings, including the analysis and summary of the results and the complete survey instrument will be available on June 16, 2021 on the Center for Community Studies section of the Jefferson Community College website.
Artwork of JCC Veteran Students Selected by U.S. Department of State for September 11 Remembrance Exhibit in London
The artwork of seven Jefferson Community College veteran students has been selected by the U.S. Department of State for inclusion in the exhibit "And Yet We Rise: 20 Years Remembrance and Reflection of September 11th" at the U.S. Embassy in London.