CCS Releases Results of 24th Annual Survey of North Country Community
SUNY Jefferson
Schedule an Admissions Appointment

CCS Releases Results of 24th Annual Survey of North Country Community

Published: February 01, 2024

The Center for Community Studies (CCS) at Jefferson Community College (JCC) released the findings of its 24th Annual North Country Survey of the Community on Thursday, February 1, 2024.  

The survey is an annual inventory of the attitudes and opinions of a representative sample of North Country adult residents and has been completed by the Center each year in Jefferson County since 2000. The survey expanded to include Lewis County annually in 2007, and further expanded to include St. Lawrence County in 2015. 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 the North Country. Additionally, analysis of the 24th Annual Survey data provides an information-rich “motion-picture” of changes in the lives of residents over the past two-plus decades when trends are investigated via comparing with earlier-year results. The longitudinal trended data included in this study summarizes results of over 21,000 interviews that have been completed in a total of 50 county-specific surveys of the community in the three counties since 2000. 

In 2023 a mixed-mode sampling design has been employed in this study to complete a total of 1,171 interviews of adult residents of the tri-county region, with 433 Jefferson County residents, 349 Lewis County residents, and 389 St. Lawrence County residents. Working under the supervision of the CCS research staff in both a physical call center in Watertown and a virtual remote call center, JCC statistics students completed 561 live interviews via telephone on both the landline and cellular phones of North Country adult residents on the evenings of October 23-30, 2023.  An additional 532 surveys were completed online by North Country adult residents after random email invitations to participate, and finally, 78 intercept surveys were completed at Fort Drum to assist in attaining accurate representation of the military-affiliated subpopulation in the sample collected in this study. The result of this sampling of 1,171 North Country residents is an approximate margin of error of ±3.2% after weighting sample survey results toward North Country population characteristics. 

Highlighted Findings from the 2023 Study:

Summary – what is changing, or most surprising, among the annual 21 community indicators studied?

1. Which indicators in 2023 differ most from their long-term average (LTA) results? 

The most noteworthy observation from 2023 survey results is the satisfaction with availability of good jobs is well higher than average, while the results for each of the following indicators are well below long-term averages: 

  • Availability of behavioral health services (2%+ below LTA in each county)
  • Quality of K-12 education (4%+ below LTA in each county)
  • Health care access (4%+ below LTA in each county)
  • The overall quality of life in the area (6%+ below LTA in each county)
  • Policing and crime control (8%+ below LTA in each county)
  • Healthcare quality (below LTA 7%+ in each county)
  • Availability of childcare (11%+ below LTA in each county)
  • Availability of care for the elderly (9%+ below LTA in each county)
  • Availability of housing (13%+ below LTA in each county)

In summary, by these metrics, availability of housing is the community characteristic that currently shows the greatest decrease in satisfaction among North Country residents among the studied indicators, closely followed by availability of care for the elderly, and availability of childcare.  

2. Perceived Quality of Life in One’s Community – Comparison of the three North Country Counties – Twenty community characteristics are studied each year in the three North Country counties (with a 21st included in only Jefferson County, Downtown of Watertown). These characteristics, or indicators, have been developed over the past two-plus decades and are intended to represent all components of what comprise a community – jobs, government, education, healthcare, housing, recreation, etc.  It is difficult not to recognize that in 2023 there are stark differences present when comparing the three represented counties. In summary, quite unanimously, Lewis County residents show the most satisfaction with the characteristics of their communities, followed by Jefferson County residents, and in comparison, residents of St. Lawrence County express by far the most dissatisfaction with the characteristics of their county. To illustrate, Lewis County residents reported the highest rates of “Excellent or Good” for 16 of the 20 studied community indicators.  The only exceptions were that in Jefferson County the highest rates of “Excellent or Good” were found for each of shopping opportunities and cost of energy, and in St. Lawrence County the highest rates of “Excellent or Good” were found for each of real estate taxes and access to higher education. Furthermore, St. Lawrence County residents reported the highest rates of “Poor” for 17 of the 20 studied community indicators.  

Highlights for individual community characteristics – among these items that are tracked each year, which are showing most notable change?

3. Pocketbook Issues – Concern with Inflation and the Cost of Living – North Country residents in 2023 continued to express that inflation is problematic. When asked the open-ended question, “What do you think is the single largest issue that is facing residents of the North Country right now?”, inflation was by far the most common free response, provided by 28% of participants.  Concern with inflation is significantly higher among Lewis County residents when compared to the other two studied counties, and among those North Country residents who describe themselves as conservative in their political beliefs.  

4. Personal Financial Situation – Some Recovery Evident Between 2022 and 2023 – Compared to results found in 2017-2018, there is strong evidence that North Country residents do not currently feel positive about their personal financial situations. In 2018, only 13% of participants reported that their financial situation had “gotten worse” in the preceding twelve months. In 2023 this “gotten worse” rate in the region is triple that which was found in 2018, the 2023 rate is 39%. However. this 39% “gotten worse” in 2023 among North Country adults is a significant decrease from the all-time high of over 51% that was found one year ago in 2022. The question that will be interesting to address next year in 2024 is whether or not this 2023 short-term improvement in personal financial situations will continue trending in that direction.  While only one in nine North Country participants in 2023 (11%) indicate that their personal financial situation has “gotten better”, this rate more than doubles to 23% among those who are from households with annual income of $100,000 or more.  

5. Good Job Availability Locally Continues to be Perceived More Positively than Ever – Availability of good jobs has been studied continuously for 24 years and for the past three years (2021-2023) the rate of assessing as “Excellent or Good” has been the highest ever found, with one exception – St. Lawrence County.  In each of Jefferson and Lewis Counties, participants in 2023 continue to rate job availability very positively (32% and 35%, respectively), but not in St. Lawrence County.  The “Excellent or Good” rate in St. Lawrence County plummeted from 27% in 2022 to only 16% in 2023. Interestingly, females and those from high income households in the North Country are least likely to feel that the availability of good jobs locally is “Excellent or Good”.  

6. Quality of K-12 Education, Residents are Returning to Pre-pandemic Levels of Satisfaction – Each year this education-related question has been included in the study, Lewis County residents have responded with the most positive assessments of the quality of their K-12 schools when compared to the other two studied counties, and without question, Lewis County adults are very proud of their schools (in 2023, 76% rate as “Excellent or Good”). In each of the three studied counties the rates of assessing local K-12 schools as “Excellent or Good” decreased continuously between 2017-2022 (Jefferson from 67% to 52%, Lewis from 80% to 65%, and St. Lawrence from 72% to a lowest 49%). However, between 2022-2023 the rates in each of Lewis and St. Lawrence have increased, returning to pre-pandemic levels (Lewis between 2022-2023 increased from 65% back up to 76%, and St. Lawrence increased from 49% back up to 57%) while Jefferson remained quite stable. Along with the previously noted very positive result in Lewis County, other studied subgroups that have particularly positive assessments of their K-12 schools include: those from households with $100,000 annual income or more (64% rate as “Excellent or Good”), those age 60-69 (64%), and those with at least a 4-year degree level of educational attainment (62%).  

8. Policing and Crime Control Satisfaction is Low Compared to Long-term Averages – Satisfaction with policing and crime control has decreased significantly in all three studied counties between 2020 and 2023, with rates of “Excellent or Good” in each of the counties well below the long-term averages for this community indicator. The Jefferson County 2023 rate is 46%, while the long-term 2000-2023 average has been 62%.  The Lewis County 2023 rate is 62%, while the long-term 2007-2023 average in the county has been 69%. The St. Lawrence County 2023 rate is 44%, while the long-term 2015-2023 average in the county has been 56%. Note that in 2023 Lewis County residents remain, as has been the case in every year of study, more positive regarding policing and crime control than residents of the two neighboring counties. Older residents, the highly educated, and those with conservative political ideologies are the subgroups that report the greatest satisfaction with policing and crime control in the region.  

9. Availability of Housing – Satisfaction with the availability of housing in the North Country has decreased significantly in all three studied counties between 2015 (when 55%-65% rated as “Excellent or Good”) and the most recent two years of study (2022-2023, when satisfaction rates have halved to approximately 30%). In this past year there is slight improvement in Lewis County (from 25% to 36%), however, a continued downward trend of more dissatisfaction with availability of housing has been found in both Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties between 2022 and 2023. The more highly educated, and those from higher income households are most satisfied with the availability of housing, along with those who self-report as Black, Indigenous, People of Color, or non-White.  

10.  Availability of Childcare – Satisfaction with the availability of childcare in the North Country has been at an all-time low for the past two years (2022-2023), however, in this past year there is slight improvement in each of Jefferson and Lewis Counties, with a continued downward trend of more dissatisfaction found in St. Lawrence County.  Only about one-in-seven North Country residents (15%) currently rate the availability of childcare as “Excellent or Good”.  When first studied in 2015-2016 the satisfaction rates were approximately 40% in the counties, which is almost triple the current rate. Interestingly, it is those adults of the age most likely to need childcare services (age 18-39) who are most satisfied with the availability (although their “Excellent or Good” rate is still a not-that-impressive, but relatively high, 20%).  Most notably, the subgroup who by far reports the highest level of satisfaction with availability of childcare is those individuals who live in a household that includes active military stationed at Fort Drum (36% of participants who have active military stationed at Fort Drum in the household rate availability of childcare as “Excellent or Good”).  

11.  What direction are things heading – In our nation? – North Country residents in 2023 have expressed clear and increasing concern that, in general, things in the United States are heading in the wrong direction.  In 2023 only 14% of participants believe that things in the country are headed in the right direction, while 73% believe that things in the country are headed in the wrong direction (was 68% in 2022), with residents of Lewis County clearly the most likely to feel that things are headed in the wrong direction (over 80% in Lewis County express this sentiment in 2023). Attitude regarding the direction that things are going in our country is very strongly correlated with political ideology – only 7% of self-described conservatives indicate that they believe that things are going in the right direction, while 86% of conservatives respond with wrong direction (over a 12:1 ratio of wrong-to-right). 

12.  What direction are things heading – In New York State? – North Country residents in 2023 have expressed large concern that, in general, things in New York State are heading in the wrong direction. In 2023 only 18% of participants believe that things in our state are headed in the right direction, while 67% believe that things in our state are headed in the wrong direction, with residents of Lewis County clearly the most likely to feel that things are headed in the wrong direction (almost 80% in Lewis County express this sentiment). Attitude regarding the direction that things are going in our state is very strongly correlated with political ideology – only 4% of self-described conservatives indicate that they believe that things are going in the right direction, while 86% of conservatives respond with wrong direction (over a 20:1 ratio of wrong-to-right).  

13.  What direction are things heading – In the North Country? – North Country residents are more optimistic, although not tremendously positive, with how things are going locally as 34% of participants in 2023 believe that things in their county are headed in the right direction (was 33% in 2022), while 40% in 2023 believe that things in their county are headed in the wrong direction. Residents of Lewis County are the most likely to feel that things are headed in the right direction in their county (37% in Lewis County express this sentiment).  Results have remained relatively stable over the past four years of surveying (rates of “right direction” by county in 2020 were: 50% in Lewis, 42% in Jefferson, and 35% in St. Lawrence, and in 2023 respectively the rates are 37%, 34%, and 33%). Attitude regarding the direction that things are going in our local counties is not as strongly correlated with political ideology – in 2023, 34% of self-described conservatives in the region indicate that they believe that things are going in the right direction in their county, while 44% of liberals respond with right direction (nowhere near the differences that emerged when these two groups evaluated the state or country).  

14.  Political Ideology – Residents continue to be most likely to report that they are moderate or middle-of-the-road, not as Liberal or as Conservative – In all three counties it has consistently been the case over the past 24 years of North Country public opinion polling that when asked one’s political beliefs or ideology, “middle-of-the-road” is the most common response. Regardless of the overwhelming notion in our current society of political polarization, it remains in 2023 that North Country adult residents self-report as: 39% middle-of-the-road; 33% conservative; 14% liberal; and 14% not sure. (2022 results were: 44% middle-of-the-road; 32% conservative; 14% liberal; and 10% not sure). 

Revisiting several North Country resident attitudes and behaviors measured in the past, but not recently measured:

15.  Severity of Community Health and Safety Issues – Crime, Poverty, Mental Health, Alcohol Abuse, Opiates Abuse, Prescriptive Drugs Abuse – Between 2016 and 2018 the Center for Community Studies included a series of survey questions regarding six separate community issues.  The goal of these questions was to measure the perceived severity of each issue within North Country communities (rather than the frequency/prevalence, suggested solutions, quality of community response, or any number of other attributes that could be studied regarding these six community issues). In 2023, perceived severity questions for these six community issues were reintroduced into the annual survey study. Below is a table that includes a summary of the changes over time that have been found for each issue, and at times, a county-comparison of results.

Community Issue Region %
rate as a
“Major Issue” 

2016-2018
Region %
rate as a
“Major Issue”
 2023

Jefferson
Results

% rate as a
“Major Issue”
2023

Lewis  Results
% rate as a
“Major Issue”
2023   

St.Lawrence Results
% rate as a
“Major Issue”
2023 

Heroin, or Other Opiate, Abuse (earlier year=2017) 73% 54% 56% 35% 57%
Poverty (earlier year=2017) 52% 41% 37% 30% 47%
Mental Health (earlier year=2016) 24% 38% 36% 29% 42%
Prescriptive Drug Abuse (earlier year=2018) 52% 37% 40% 24% 37%
Alcohol Abuse (earlier year=2017) 48% 33% 36% 25% 32%
Crime (earlier year=2017) 35% 21% 19% 7% 27%


In summary, in 2023, adults in Lewis County far less commonly perceive community issues as "major" compared to residents of Jefferson or St. Lawrence Counties. Additionally, regarding poverty and crime, St. Lawrence County residents more frequently rate the severity of these problems as "major" than those in Jefferson County. Although Heroin, or Other Opiate, Abuse remains the most commonly perceived issue as “major” in the North Country (54% in 2023), a clear trend found over the past six years in the North Country is a significant decrease in evaluating Heroin, or Other Opiate, Abuse as a “major” community issue (from 73% in 2017 to the current 54%). Similar decreases in the perceived severity of poverty, crime, prescriptive drug abuse, and alcohol abuse were found between 2017/2018 and 2023. However, the clear exception in perception of community issues found in this study is that the reverse trend has transpired in the North Country between 2016 and 2023 when assessing mental health – only 24% of participants in 2016 rated Mental Health as a “major” issue, while that rate has increased to 38% in 2023.  

16.  Women’s Reproductive Rights – There is overwhelming evidence that a large majority of adult residents in the North Country support women’s reproductive rights. Participants were provided the following two statements, and asked which of the two choices they most agree with: Statement A: "Choosing abortion is a woman's right, and society should protect that right", and Statement B: "Abortion is morally wrong, and society should prohibit it".  By more than a three-to-one ratio, residents are more likely to agree with Statement A rather than Statement B. More than three-fourths (76%) of North Country residents agree with the pro-choice Statement A, while less than one-fourth (24%) agree with the pro-life Statement B.  This sentiment resonates in each of the three individual counties studied in 2023 (the A vs. B rates):  Jefferson: 78% vs. 22%; Lewis: 66% vs. 34%; and St. Lawrence: 76% vs. 24%).  Moreover, the most recent-past inclusion of this survey question in this annual study was in 2020, before the 2023 overturn of the Row v. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court. The 2023 results have shown an increase in support for Statement A (pro-choice) in each of the three counties since 2020 – Jefferson from 65% to 78%, Lewis from 59% to 66%, and St. Lawrence from 72% to 76%. Finally, throughout the North Country support for women’s reproductive rights is quite ubiquitous.  Among the many subgroups studied – by county, by age, by gender, by education, by military affiliation, by race/ethnicity, and by political ideology – every subgroup has a large majority within their participants who believe that choosing abortion is a woman’s right, with 66% or more agreeing with Statement A in every studied subgroup, except one subgroup. The group of conservatives show less support for women’s reproductive rights, however, even among this conservative subgroup a majority (56%) agree with Statement A. 

17.  Cross-border Travel – For the first 13 years that this annual study was completed in Jefferson County (2000-2012), the question “How many times have you crossed the border to eastern Ontario during the past year?” was tracked. In 2000-2001 two-in-three (60%-70%) of Jefferson County residents crossed the border at least once per year to eastern Ontario.  This rate post-9/11 continuously decreased between 2001-2012 from 67% down to only 21% in 2012. Over a decade later, in 2023, the rate of crossing the border remains similar with 25% of Jefferson County residents crossing the border at least once (and similarly, 29% in St. Lawrence County, with only 9% in Lewis County). Education level and annual household income are the two factors that are most strongly associated with cross-border travel – among those with at least a 4-year degree, 42% have crossed the border at least once in the past year, and the rate increases to 45% among those from households with annual incomes of at least $100,000. 

18.  A Good Place to Grow Old – In 2010 and 2011, the question “Do you believe that your county is a good place to grow old?” was included in this annual study in each of Jefferson and Lewis Counties, and at that time approximately 40% of participants responded with “very good”. The question has been reintroduced into this 2023 study and a tremendous change has been observed in that the “very good” rate has decreased from 40% to only 16% in the North Country. Not surprisingly, the subgroup that is most likely to respond that their county is a very good place to grow old is those who are already 70 years of age or older. Notably, Lewis County residents, and lower education level residents, are groups with more positive assessments of their county being a very good place to grow old. 

19.  Fort Drum Support – In 2003, in Jefferson County, for the first time, a survey question about the perception that the presence of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum since 1985 has improved the overall quality of life of North Country citizens was included in this annual study. Between 2003-2017 in Jefferson County the typical result was that approximately 75% of participants agreed with this perceived positive quality-of-life impact. Similarly, between 2007-2017 in Lewis County the typical result was that approximately 70% of participants agreed with this perceived positive quality-of-life impact. In 2023 this question was reintroduced and employed in all three counties and results remain very positive with 74% agreeing in Lewis County, 71% in Jefferson County, and 60% in St. Lawrence County. Note that the primary reason for this lower agreement rate in St. Lawrence County is due to a larger “no opinion” response rate, which is likely associated with the further distance from the military installation. Notably, the subgroup with the highest rate of agreement is the older residents (79% among those age 70+), and Fort Drum impact opinion is independent of political ideology (71% of conservatives agree, while similarly, 68% of liberals agree). 

The entire final report of study findings, including the detailed statistical analysis and summary of results is available on the College’s website

Annual surveys of the North Country communities are sponsored by Jefferson Community College, Car-Freshner, Northern New York Community Foundation, Development Authority of the North Country, and the Lewis County Board of Legislature who all provide financial support to assist in the funding of these projects.

Related Articles

  • Open House and Career Expo To Be Held on March 22, 2024

    Jefferson Community College is set to host Open House and Career Expo on Friday, March 22, 2024. Check-in begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Jules Center Commons (Building 6). Explore the offerings of JCC and engage with over 50 local employers to discover diverse career pathways.