Last Wednesday, the University of Illinois Springfield Center for State Policy & Leadership, the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and United Way announced the results of the 2017 Sangamon County Citizen Survey. This year’s survey marked the third time the organizations partnered to conduct the biennial survey measuring the community’s viewpoints about education, environment, social well-being, public safety, economy, infrastructure, culture & recreation, and government & civic participation.
The survey is designed to help the community’s policymakers and organizations better understand the issues affecting Sangamon County residents. However, the survey is not just a learning tool for community leadership, it also provides a reference point for organizations addressing community issues and those needing community level data when applying for private and governmental grant funding.
The first citizen survey conducted by the three organizations was completed in 2013 and provided a benchmark from which we could measure long-term change in public perceptions. I use the term “long-term” because it is important to recognize that public perceptions regarding quality of life issues can often be swayed by current events or news which may have short term implications.
As an organization, United Way fights for the Basic Needs, Education, Financial Stability and Health of every person living in our community. In order to make informed decisions, United Way volunteers need to both understand the issues affecting the quality of life in our community and data concerning these issues. The Citizen Survey provides both, especially when results are used in conjunction with other community assessments and sources of data.
For United Way, this year’s survey confirmed other sources available data which shows that the need for a strong safety net of services continues to exist in our community. The survey showed a persistently large percentage of people experienced times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to pay for food, housing, medicine or utilities.
Likewise, the number of people reporting they are “better” off or “worse” off compared to 12 months ago has not changed considerably since our initial survey in 2013. This demonstrates that there is not just a need to assure services are available for people in crisis, but also demonstrates the need to focus on programs providing families the education, skills and supports needed to help them live more financially stable lives.
One bright spot in the survey were the results showing that just 4 percent of those living in our community are currently uninsured or not enrolled in some form of health care coverage. This result mirrored the same survey results collected in 2015. However, survey results demonstrated that simply having coverage doesn’t mean that these individuals are accessing necessary or preventative health care services. The survey showed 12 percent of all respondents did not have a personal doctor and 16 percent stated there was a time in the past 12 months that they needed to see a doctor but could not because of cost. This shows that health education and access issues continue to be important issues in our community.
While I discussed some data points related to basic needs, financial stability and health above, it is important to highlight that the Sangamon County Citizen Survey is one of the most extensive surveys ever conducted in our community. The above highlights represent only a sample of the information which can be gleaned from the report.
The survey itself touches upon issues which affect every business and person in our community including public perceptions on tax policy, local leaders, infrastructure, the environment and education. The full survey results can be found here.
Like many of this year’s survey respondents, I believe we live in a great community. However, I also believe that we can do better and efforts such as the Citizen Survey provide a good starting point from which we can identify the issues affecting our quality of life.
John Kelker is the president at United Way of Central Illinois. Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.