Virginia receives high marks for most aspects of life

September 12, 2002

(Blacksburg,Va., September, 12, 2002) -- People in Virginia remain positive in their assessment of the state's qualities, despite the state budget crisis and terrorism, according to the 11th annual Quality of Life Survey conducted by Virginia Tech's Center for Survey Research.

"Virginians report less confidence in the state economy and more unemployment, but find happiness in their friends, families, and communities," reports Center director Alan Bayer.

More than nine in 10 Virginians report that they are "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with their friendships (92 percent) and their family relationships (94 percent). Almost nine in 10 respondents (88 percent) rate Virginia as either an "excellent" or "good" place to live, a finding identical to that of the past two years. Additionally, 76 percent rate Virginia as an "excellent" or "good" place to take a vacation. Virginians rate Virginia as an "excellent" or "good" place to get an education at any level. More than seven out of 10 respondents also rate Virginia as an "excellent" or "good" place to retire and to obtain quality medical care.

The analysis of the Spring survey has just been released. Bayer calls the 2002 survey a "bench mark" report because the state's new economic situation -- a $3.8 billion budget shortfall as of mid-August -- will affect services. "Subsequent surveys will reflect how the changing economy will impact various aspects of public opinion."

Last year's survey reported that 72 percent agreed that Virginia's economy is improving. This year, only 67 percent rate the economy in Virginia as improving. The U.S. economy received a higher vote of confidence, with 73 percent saying it is improving, a proportion similar to last year.



The majority of Virginians have maintained confidence in their own personal economic well-being, according to the survey. Similar to the findings from previous years, 79 percent are "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with their current income and financial situation. Among employed Virginians, 89 percent say that they are "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with their most recent job. However, 41 percent indicate that they worry "often" or "sometimes" that someone in their family or household might lose their job. This concern has increased since last year when only 36 percent worried about this. And the proportion of citizens who believe that Virginia is an "excellent" or "good" place to find a job has also declined, from 70 percent last year to 63 percent in 2002.

In fact, the number of employed respondents declined this year, with 72 percent reporting being employed, in contrast to 78 percent in 2001. Men are more likely to be employed full-time for pay than are women, while women are twice as likely to hold part-time positions. One-third of men and women report they telecommute or work from home one or more days per month.

Nevertheless, Virginians are "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with their income and financial situation (79 percent) and express positive opinions overall on most aspects of life in their state.

Affordable housing joins job opportunities as an area where public perceptions dip, with only 55 percent saying Virginia has reasonably priced housing, with urban dwellers (49 percent) less satisfied than residents in the rest of the state (63 percent).

The Center for Survey Research has conducted an annual "quality of life" survey since 1992 to supplement statistical sources related to life quality compiled routinely by government agencies with more subjective data driven by the opinions of Virginians. The project is supported in part by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. The data gathered is now relied upon by various governmental agencies and organizations to closely monitor the perceptions of Virginians regarding a wide array of policy and life quality issues.

"Because the survey has now been conducted for 11 years, trend patterns in the opinions of Virginians are now evident and will allow policy and decision makers throughout the commonwealth to better understand the policy directions that most closely reflect the desires of Virginia citizens," says Susan Willis-Walton, associate director of the survey center.

Terrorism, Crime, and Violence
One new question was a direct result of September 11. "A most prominent concern among Virginians is another terrorist attack" says Bayer. Fully eight in 10 Virginians say that they "often" or "sometimes" worry that more acts of terrorism will occur in the United States, the survey finds. Older citizens are substantially less likely (79 percent) to say that they "often" worry about further terrorist attacks in the United States, compared to respondents under 40 years of age (87 percent).

On the other hand, "Virginians have grown increasingly positive in their opinions regarding local law enforcement in their communities," says Bayer. In 2002, 84 percent of respondents rated the quality of their local law enforcement as either "excellent" or "good." Almost one-fourth of respondents (24 percent) indicate that they believe that crime has increased in their community over the past two years, a percentage that has remained relatively constant in recent years. Only 44 percent also indicate that they worry "often" or "sometimes" that someone in their household will become a victim of crime.

Regarding feelings of safety when walking alone at night in their neighborhoods, the majority of respondents (81 percent) report that they feel "very" or "somewhat" safe, although only 37 percent of women report that they feel "very safe." Younger citizens and those with advanced education were more likely than others to report that they feel "very safe" in their neighborhood.

Opinions among Virginians regarding the legality of handguns has changed in recent years, with fewer men and women now agreeing with the statement "handguns should be made illegal." While 46 percent of women would make handguns illegal, down from 55 percent in 1999, only 29 percent of men would make them illegal, down from 38 percent in 1999 -- the highest year for men who responded that handguns should be illegal.

Community
New questions were also asked to support the work of researchers at Virginia Tech. Human development professor Jay A. Mancini is doing research to determine the factors that contribute to or detract from "community capacity" -- the sense of shared responsibility that people in a community have, plus their ability to act together to improve their community.

Responses to the survey indicate Virginians are reasonably well integrated into their communities on some dimensions. However, "citizen participation in community planning and problem-solving is noticeably low", says Willis-Walton."Building community capacity to accomplish important quality of life goals requires citizens from all walks of life to be active in the process. Participation in formal groups and informal networks, participation in volunteer activities, and developing friendships, are all important to building community capacity," says Mancini, whose research at Virginia Tech is on sustaining community-based programs for families and on strengthening families in military communities. "The strength of community connections is a barometer of how well a community is prepared to deal with adversity, as well as with ordinary, daily situations," he says. " A most important finding from the preliminary analysis of the survey data is that Virginians feel a sense of belonging to their community."

Consistent with findings of the past 10 years, the majority of Virginians rate community services highly.

(See Figure 1 http://www.research.vt.edu/resmag/Images/qol_fig1.gif or http://www.research.vt.edu/resmag/Images/qol_fig1.jpg)

Education
Since the inception of the annual quality of life survey, Virginians have expressed positive views regarding education. Eight in 10 respondents (81 percent) rate Virginia as either a "good" or "excellent" place for young people to get an education through grade 12, although only 69 percent rate the public schools (K-12) in their community as either "excellent" or "good." Somewhat more than half of Virginians (55 percent) agree that student scores on standardized tests (SOLs) should be used to judge how well schools are doing.

Virginians' opinions regarding higher education in the Commonwealth are even more positive than those expressed about secondary education. Specifically, 90 percent of respondents rate Virginia as a "good" or "excellent" place to get a college or university education. This finding has remained relatively constant over the past five years.

The opinions of Virginians regarding state spending for public education differ for secondary education versus higher education: 61 percent of Virginians say that "not enough" is being spent on K-12 public schools, but only 39 percent say that the spending level is "not enough" for colleges and universities.

Health and health coverage
Fifty-five percent are "very" satisfied with their physical health and 33 percent are "somewhat satisfied." Older residents and those outside the urban crescent are less satisfied. "Optimism about one's health is encouraging, says Willis-Walton, especially since the numbers of respondents reporting that they have health insurance is substantially down from last year".

Three-fourths of Virginians report that they have private health insurance coverage, a substantial decrease from 85 percent last year and 82 percent in 2000. However, reports of concern that a family member might become ill and will have healthcare costs that are not covered by insurance have decreased: 47 percent report that they worry about this "often" or "sometimes," which reverses the trend of increasing concern that had been observed over the preceding five years, from 41 percent in 1997 to 52 percent last year.

Computer ownership and use
New questions about the use of the Internet for finding information on health-related matters were requested by Peggy Meszaros, director of the Center for Information Technology Impacts on Children, Youth and Families at Virginia Tech.

The number of Virginians owning computers has consistently remained ahead of the rate of computer ownership nationally, advancing from 54 percent in 1997 to three-fourths of Virginians reporting ownership this year and 79 percent of Virginians report having access to the Internet, up from 72 percent two years ago.

Almost one-half (47 percent) of those who report Internet access reported that some member of the household had used the Internet for health information in the past three months. The most frequent search (90 percent of users) was to gain information on a particular health problem or condition, followed by use to locate diet information (40 percent) or exercise and fitness information (37 percent). One in five users of the Internet for health information used it to find a physician or health care provider.

The survey has asked about product purchases over the Internet since 1999. Bayer says "the Web is becoming a new shopping mall for Virginians." In 2002, 60 percent of Virginians with Internet access reported that a member of their household has purchased a product on the Internet, up from 55 percent last year and 47 percent two years ago.

Social welfare programs and other social issues
The quality of life survey touches on a broad number of national and state social issues and policies, and the results have possible policy implications, says Willis-Walton. "Virginians continue to express support for a broad range of social welfare programs," she says. "However, not all program areas enjoy the same depth of support. The survey results suggest there may be limits to public support for specific social welfare programs."

See Figure 2. (http://www.research.vt.edu/resmag/Images/qol_fig2.gif or http://www.research.vt.edu/resmag/Images/qol_fig2.jpg)

Questions regarding capital punishment continue to be asked annually in the surveys.Regarding other social issues:
In all, telephone surveyors completed 769 interviews. The survey provides a representative sample of adult respondents in households across Virginia with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence. In other words, if the survey were repeated 100 times, results would vary beyond 3.6 percent in only five instances.
-end-
Copies of this report are available for $12, including postage and handling. Make check or money order payable to Treasurer, Virginia Tech, and mail to the Virginia Tech Center for Survey Research at 207 West Roanoke Street (0543), Blacksburg, VA 24061. Learn more about the center at http://filebox.vt.edu/centers/survey/.

Contact for more information: Alan Bayer or Susan Willis-Walton, 540-231-3676.
Regarding his community related questions, reach Jay A. Mancini at 540-231-9816 mancini@vt.edu

PR CONTACT: Susan Trulove 540-231-5646 STrulove@vt.edu

Virginia Tech

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