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Virginians optimistic about economy, according to annual quality of life survey


BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 20, 2005 – Virginians remain satisfied with their quality of life and are increasingly optimistic about the economy, according to the 13th annual Quality of Life in Virginia survey conducted by the Virginia Tech Center for Survey Research.

The project is directed by Susan M. Willis-Walton, co-director of the Center for Survey Research; Alan E. Bayer, center co-director and professor of sociology at Virginia Tech; and Thomas L. Gordon, data systems manager at the center.

A substantial change in the perceptions of citizens regarding the economy in Virginia and in the nation is evident during the past several years, Willis-Walton and Bayer report. Specifically, from the late 1980s through 2000, more than eight in 10 citizens said they thought both the nation's economy and Virginia's economy were improving. This optimism dropped noticeably; to 58 percent of Virginians in 2003 who thought the U.S. economy and Virginia's economy were improving. "In 2004, however, there was a substantial improvement in the perceptions among Virginians regarding the economy, albeit not to the level of the late 1990s," the researchers wrote. In 2004, seven in 10 Virginians agreed that the U.S. economy was improving and 73 percent said the same with regard to Virginia's current economy.

In a related finding, the favorable ratings of Virginia as a place to find a job are up this year for the first time in several years. The proportion of citizens who believed that Virginia is an "excellent" or "good" place to find a job had declined from 73 percent in 2000 to 70 percent in 2001, then 63 percent in 2002, and 56 percent in 2003. However, in 2004, 62 percent of respondents said Virginia is an "excellent" or "good" place to find a job. Respondents residing in the urban crescent (Northern Virginia, Richmond, Hampton Roads) of Virginia are even more favorable with regard to Virginia as a place to find a job, with 68 percent rating Virginia as either "excellent" or "good."

What's the same?

As in previous years, the majority of Virginians rate the commonwealth favorably on most aspects of life. Almost nine of 10 respondents (88 percent) rate Virginia overall as either an "excellent" or "good" place to live. Education is rated the most favorable by respondents among the variety of aspects of Virginia addressed in the survey. More than eight in 10 Virginians (86 percent) rate college or university education in the commonwealth as either "excellent" or "good," and eight in 10 respondents (81 percent) rate Virginia as either an "excellent" or "good" place for young people to get an education through grade 12. More than three-fourths of citizens rate Virginia as either "excellent" or "good" as a place to take a vacation (77 percent), and as a place to obtain quality medical care (78 percent). Two-thirds of Virginians (67 percent) rate the commonwealth as either an "excellent" or "good" place to retire.

Virginians remain highly satisfied with a variety of aspects affecting life quality. More than nine in 10 Virginians report that they are "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with their family relationships (95 percent), the quality of their current housing (94 percent), their friendships (93 percent), and their physical health (91 percent). More than eight in 10 Virginians are "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with the quality of the medical care they presently have (87 percent), and the cost of their current housing (84 percent). Likewise, more than eight in 10 (81 percent) are satisfied with their income and financial situation. The two life aspects with which Virginians express the least satisfaction are: available free time (73 percent satisfied) and the cost of their present medical care (66 percent satisfied).

Terrorism

Although the majority of Virginians (73 percent) still worry "often" or "sometimes" that more acts of terrorism will occur in the United States, perceptions regarding such threats have decreased since 2002, when more than eight in 10 Virginians (81 percent) said that they worried "often" or "sometimes" about this. Most Virginians feel the commonwealth is spending an appropriate amount on protecting Virginia against terrorism with 56 percent of citizens indicating that Virginia spends "about the right amount." One-fourth think there is "not enough" state spending in this area, and 14 percent of Virginians said they "don't know" about spending in this area.

Transportation

A new transportation-related question included in the 2004 survey asked whether special lanes on interstate highways should be designated only for trucks. The majority of Virginians were supportive of this change; 48 percent "strongly agree' with the proposed policy, and an additional 25 percent "somewhat agree."

Virginians' concern for state highways and roads has risen significantly in recent years, Willis-Walton reports. In the late 1990s, the annual surveys indicated that only one-third, or less, of Virginians thought that "not enough" state spending was being allocated for highway and road improvements. In 2004, 47 percent indicated that they thought "not enough" was spent (up from 39 percent in 2002 and 40 percent in 2003). "Concern for more state spending for state highways and roads is particularly prevalent in the state's urban crescent area," the researchers write. "In 2004, 51 percent of urban crescent residents, and 42 percent of those residing elsewhere in Virginia, indicated that they felt that 'not enough' is spent on highways and roads."

The survey was conducted by telephone calls to 7,832 randomly selected telephone numbers, with 1,828 completed interviews. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.3 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence. The 2004 project was funded by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, and the Virginia Department of Education. The results are used by state policymakers and national organizations. Data from the poll are included in national quality of life polls.

Copies of the survey report are available for $12 from the Center for Survey Research, mail code 0543, Virginia Tech, 207 West Roanoke St., Blacksburg, Va. 24061. For a copy of the report, e-mail vtcsr@vt.edu.



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