Higher Education

Greater GR residents have a voice on issues

Survey of 3,000 captures perceptions and reveals geographic disparities.

March 20, 2015
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The Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University has released the findings from a community survey to prompt discussion about disparities revealed by participating Grand Rapids residents.

Results from the 2014 VoiceGR survey assessing perceptions from more than 3,000 Greater Grand Rapids-area residents indicated while nearly 80 percent of respondents said they would give the city a grade “A” or “B” as a place to live, there is a critical need to address disparities among subgroups of the population.

The 2014 VoiceGR Survey, conducted by the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s Community Research Institute with collaboration from LINC Community Revitalization Inc., is designed to capture the voices and perceptions of residents on key issues in their community, including safety, work, health care, economy and ability to meet basic needs.

Jodi Peterson, senior researcher at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s CRI, said the main goal of the annual survey is to assess some of the attitudes, perceptions and opinions of residents on big issues.

“It really kind of builds on demographic data tied with perceptions, and the main goal is to then break it down by race, gender, socioeconomic status, education level, and eventually by geography, as well,” said Peterson.

VoiceGR results were collected through online administration, face-to-face interaction at community events and door-to-door paper surveys by LINC Community Revitalization staff in five target neighborhoods: Black Hills, Garfield Park, Grandville, John Ball and West Grand.

Originally known as the Greater Grand Rapids Community Survey when it launched in 2001, Peterson said the methodology included a random sampling of roughly 500 resident phone surveys up until 2013.

“We switched to an online methodology and we did some face-to-face surveying, as well. We were really trying to throw out the idea of random sampling and instead build toward a more representative sample,” said Peterson. “In 2014, we also included door-to-door surveying.”

Breaking down the 80 percent overall rating of an “A” or “B” for Grand Rapids based on race, geography and socioeconomic status, the VoiceGR study indicated a number of disparities in how respondents ranked the city.

The “A” ratings ranged from 20 percent of respondents on the city’s southwest side to 36 percent of residents on the northeast side. While 14 percent of Hispanic/Latino residents and 17 percent of African-American respondents rated Grand Rapids as an “A,” close to 36 percent of white or non-Hispanic participants rated the city as an “A.”

Key findings indicated in the study include the fact that 25 percent of respondents overall reportedly do not have a primary care physician; 42 percent of Hispanic residents, 32 percent of African-American respondents, and 19 percent of white participants do not have a medical home.

Overall, 76 percent of respondents indicated they can afford to meet their needs based on their current income. Breaking down the 24 percent of respondents who indicated not being able to meet basic needs was interesting, according to Peterson. Roughly 38 percent of Hispanic/Latino residents, 29 percent of African-American residents and 18 percent of white residents indicated they couldn’t meet basic needs based on their income.

“Those disparities are even greater when you look at education levels: 46 percent of people without a high school education said they could not meet their basic needs, 33 percent of people with a high school diploma or GED, 29 percent with some college, and only 12 percent with a bachelor’s degree,” said Peterson.

“If you were to layer those identities on top of one another and look at the intersection, as people have less education, are further below the poverty line, are minority race, then disparities become even greater.”

VoiceGR also examined the correlation between poverty and employment status, with nearly a quarter of respondents who are working full time still falling below the poverty line, according to Peterson.

“We thought that was pretty interesting because it shows again as you start stacking these identities on top of one another, we know who is more likely to fall below the poverty line; we know who is more likely to be unable to achieve full-time work,” said Peterson. “What does that mean? Are there really pathways or strategies out of poverty if you are working full time?”

The results of the 2014 VoiceGR survey were officially presented at the 2015 Community Research Summit earlier this month. Nonprofit program managers, public officials and community leaders gathered to hear an overview of survey results and discuss data-driven decision-making through the course of the event, which included several presenters and breakout sessions.

The presenters included Peterson; George Grant, dean of the College of Community and Public Service at GVSU; and Jerry Johnson, director of CRI at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at GVSU.

As part of an ongoing effort, the CRI is partnering with nonprofit organizations to host a series of “community conversations” beginning in April and continuing throughout the summer to relay information to residents and hear their feedback, according to Peterson.

“We are partnering with nonprofit organizations and focusing in on specific subtopics, subpopulations or geographies to present information back to residents to see what their interpretation is, what they think the next step should be, and what they are hoping nonprofits and the government will do with these results,” said Peterson. “Then from each of those community conversations, we are doing a blog post and presenting all the information back to the mayor’s office at the end of the summer.”

With a purpose of being an objective data collector and provider to better inform residents, organizations, businesses and the overall city government, Peterson said the VoiceGR survey differentiates itself from other assessments due to the disaggregating of data and sample methodology.

“I think what really makes us different is we are going for a representative sample of Greater Grand Rapids so we can really understand, when you break things down into the different subgroups, where the issues are — where the needs are — so programs can better target those needs,” said Peterson.

“Typically, surveys don’t have large enough sample sizes or don’t take the extra step to break it down. Our hope is to really encourage the desegregation of data so all efforts can be more effective because they are better targeted.”

VoiceGR partners include a variety of local organizations, including Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Literacy Center of West Michigan, Local First, David D. Hunting YMCA, Salvation Army, Heart of West Michigan United Way, Women’s Resource Center, Catherine’s Health Center, Experience Grand Rapids, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, West Michigan Asian American Association and more.

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