Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Houston, a Glimpse into America’s More Caring Future?

The 2011 Kinder Houston Area Survey took in a representative sample of 750 Harris County residents—including 240 respondents contacted by cell phone. The University of Houston administered the survey. Survey author, Stephen Klineberg, co-director of the Kinder Institute and professor of sociology, said:

Houston is where America’s four major ethnic communities—Anglos, Asians, blacks and Latinos—meet in more equal numbers than almost anywhere else in the country. The challenges and opportunities of creating a more unified and inclusive multiethnic society will be seen here first.

As a city at the forefront of the country’s demographic revolution, Klineberg thought that Houston offers a glimpse into America’s future, and the survey’s assessment of the city may offer important lessons for strengthening the rest of the country:

  • create policies that moderate the inequalities
  • nurture a far more educated workforce
  • develop cities into environmentally and aesthetically appealing destinations
  • empower all members of a multiethnic society.

Though Texas is a red state traditionally wanting less government, a majority of Houstonians today (52 percent) said that government has a responsibility to help reduce the inequalities between rich and poor in America (up from 45 percent in 2009). This year 48 percent said that “government should do more to solve our country’s problems” (up from 36 percent in 1996). 72 percent of respondents thought most poor people in the US today are poor because of circumstances they can’t control (up from 68 percent in 2007, and 52 percent in 1999). Although 86 percent agreed “if you work hard in this city, eventually you will succeed”, 67 percent also think “people who work hard and live by the rules are not getting a fair break these days”.

Respondents are a bit more upbeat in their personal economic outlooks—26 percent (up from 20 percent in 2010) report improving personal financial conditions—but remain pessimistic about the long term national prospects—only 31 percent (down from 43 percent in 2007) believe that young people will eventually have a higher standard of living than adult Americans today:

Houstonians feel that the bleeding has stopped, but a robust recovery is not yet on the horizon.
Stephen Klineberg

78 percent disagreed with the statement “A high school education is enough to get a good job”. The percent of people who spontaneously mentioned education when asked to name the biggest problem facing people in Houston jumped to 7.6 percent this year from just 1.7 percent in 2009 and 2 percent in 2010:

There’s a new awareness that this is now a high tech, knowledge based economy and there aren’t many good jobs for people without a college education. Education is more important than ever. Long gone are the days when you could get a job out of high school, work hard and make enough money until you retire. The resources of the knowledge economy are not found in factories, they are situated between the ears of the best and brightest, who can live anywhere.

Public support for new initiatives to improve the quality of life in Houston has remained firm or grown stronger across the 30 years of the survey. Area residents support measures to enhance the city’s green spaces and bayous, revitalize and preserve urban centers and improve air and water quality.

Though most respondents (52 percent) said they would prefer to live in a single family residential area, a large minority (45 percent) would choose an area with a mix of homes, shops and restaurants. In 2010, 41 percent said they’d prefer a smaller home within walking distance of shops and workplaces, rather than a single family home with a big yard “where you would need to drive almost everywhere you want to go”.

Asked how they would feel if a close relative of theirs wanted to marry a non-Anglo, 8 percent of the Anglo respondents this year said they would disapprove, down from 13 percent in 2002 and 23 percent in 1995. Among the Anglo respondents under the age of 30, 93 percent said they would approve of such intermarriage, compared with 69 percent of those 60 or older. Seventy percent of Anglos under 30, but only 35 percent in the older group, said that the increasing immigration into this country today mostly strengthens American culture. 73 percent of the younger respondents, compared with 52 percent of those 60 or older, said they are in favor of granting illegal immigrants a path to legal citizenship if they speak English and have no criminal record.

So, older Houstonians’ attitudes toward diversity, which will continue growing rapidly, are in conflict with younger Anglos more comfortable with the demographic trends.

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