The Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College released the findings of the 15th Annual Lewis County Survey of the Community at a meeting of the Lewis County Board of Legislators on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The meeting, livestreamed at the Lewis County Courthouse, is available on the Lewis County Board of Legislators YouTube channel.
The survey is an annual inventory of the attitudes and opinions of a representative sample of Lewis County adult residents, and has been completed by the Center each October in the county since 2007. 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 Lewis County. Additionally, the analysis of the 15th Annual Survey data provides an information-rich “motion-picture” of changes in the lives of county residents over the past fourteen years when trends are investigated via comparing with earlier-year results. Further, a similar study has been completed annually by the Center for Community Studies in Jefferson County since 2000, and in St. Lawrence County since 2015, 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 550 interviews of adult residents of the county. Working under the supervision of the Center for Community Studies research staff in both a social-distanced call center in Watertown and a virtual remote call center, statistics students at the College completed 385 telephone interviews on both the landline and cellular phones of Lewis County adult residents on the evenings of October 26-31, 2021. An additional 165 surveys were completed online by Lewis County adult residents after random email invitations to participate. The result of this sampling of a total of 550 county residents is an approximate margin of error of ±5.1% after weighting sample survey results toward Lewis County population characteristics.
Highlights of the 2021 Lewis County survey include:
1. Quality of Life Indicators in Lewis County –
There is strong evidence in 2021 in Lewis County that satisfaction with quality-of-life indicators has decreased to levels far below that which was measured in 2018 and 2019 preceding the global COVID-19 pandemic. Nineteen of the twenty annually-measured indicators had lower rates of responding “Excellent or Good” in 2021 than were found in the most recent prepandemic study of the indicators. Only “Availability of Good Jobs” shows an increase in satisfaction in 2021, with an 11% increase in likelihood to respond, “Excellent or Good” (increased from 25% in 2019 to 36% in 2021). Eight of the twenty indicators in 2021 had their largest ever rate of responding “Poor”.
2. Largest Issue Facing Residents of Lewis County
Residents in 2021 continue the recent increases in the rate of responding “government, leadership, politics” as the largest issue facing the residents of Lewis County at this time (22% respond this issue to the open-ended question, a rate that was only 4% in 2019). The second most common response in 2021 is “jobs and the economy”, however, this rate is 18% in 2021 and it has been as high as 67% in 2010. Possibly equally as telling is the list of community issues that in the past have commonly emerged as responses to this open-ended survey question in Lewis County, but were not as commonly cited in 2021, including: “healthcare”, “drug abuse”, “poverty”, and “taxes”.
3. What direction are things heading – In the country? In New York State? In Lewis
Lewis County residents in 2021 have expressed clear and increasing concern that, in general, things in New York State and in the entire country are heading in the wrong direction. For example, in 2021 only 11% of participants believe that things in the country are headed in the right direction, while 79% believe that things in the country are headed in the wrong direction (these rates in Lewis County were 42% and 43%, respectively, in the October 2019 survey). Residents, however, are more optimistic with how things are going locally as 35% of participants in 2021 believe that things in the county are headed in the right direction, while only 31% believe that things in the county are headed in the wrong direction (but - these rates in Lewis County were 61% and 18%, respectively, in the October 2019 survey).
4. Personal Financial and Employment Situations
Not unexpectedly, given the 2020-2021 global pandemic, the rate of expressing that one’s personal financial situation in the past year has “gotten better” in 2021 (12%) is the lowest measured since 2011 in Lewis County, and the second lowest ever measured in the county. Additionally, the rate of responding “gotten worse” in 2021 (34%) is the highest observed since 2009. Of note is the tremendous recent change in responses to this survey question between 2019 and 2021, comparing prepandemic to the current pandemic period. Responses of “gotten better” decreased from 31% to only 12% between 2019 and 2021, while responses of “gotten worse” increased from 14% to 34% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it remains the case that the 2021 results are more positive than was found in the recession-related year of 2008 in Lewis County, when the rate of “gotten better” was only 12%, while the “gotten worse” was the all-time high of 40%.
5. K-12 Education in Lewis County
Ten of the past twelve years of this community survey have included the following survey question, on an agree-to-disagree scale: “Lewis County schools are adequately preparing our young people for the technology and economy of the future.” In 2021 Lewis County adult residents are almost twice as likely to agree (49%) as to disagree (28%) with this educational satisfaction statement. However, the level of satisfaction with local K-12 education in 2021 among Lewis County adult residents has diminished from the satisfaction shown in earlier years of this community survey. For example, the 49% agreement rate found in 2021 can be placed in some perspective by contrasting with 2010 results when first surveyed in Lewis County (agree rate was 78%), and more recently by comparing to 2019 in the county (agree rate was 63%).
6. Childcare Challenges in Lewis County
Adults in Lewis County in 2021 who have school-aged children in their home were asked “Do you ever experience difficulty finding suitable childcare services for your children?” Parents are slightly more likely to respond that they do experience difficulty finding suitable childcare services for their children (44%) than they are to indicate that they do not (40%). However, incidence of experiencing difficulty finding suitable childcare services for one’s children has increased statistically significantly and dramatically among parents in Lewis County since last studied in 2008, when the rate of responding “yes” was only 16% (a rate that has almost tripled to 44% in 2021).
The sponsors of these annual surveys of the North Country communities are Jefferson Community College, the Northern New York Community Foundation, the 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.
The entire final report of study findings, including the detailed statistical analysis and summary of results, along with the complete survey instrument will be available on March 1, 2022 on the Center for Community Studies section of the Jefferson Community College website.
JCC To Hold Information Sessions: Nursing, SUNY Upstate Pathway, Military-Affiliated
Jefferson Community College will hold program-specific information sessions in-person and virtually via Zoom on October 10, October 16, and November 29, 2023, respectively. Information sessions will begin at 5:30 p.m.