Friday, February 16, 2007

Anchorage Community Assessment Project Gives Anchorage Mixed Reviews On Quality Of Life

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has unveiled a privately-funded 256-page report that portrays a mixed representation of our community. The Anchorage Community Assessment Project (CAP) Comprehensive Report presents a statistical analysis of Anchorage from top to toe, including demographics, economy, education, and a candid profile of what residents really think about our quality of life from responses to telephone polls, face-to-face surveys, and demographic references compiled by agencies such as the Anchorage School District. This post combines reports from several media sources, including KIMO Channel 13, KTUU Channel 2, and the most comprehensive report from the Anchorage Daily News. (Photo of Anchorage looking NE towards Eagle River courtesy of KIMO)

Coordinated by the Municipality of Anchorage and United Way of Anchorage (with principal funding from British Petroleum and the Rasmuson Foundation), this community report card is intended to serve as an initial assessment to inspire change and guide the city's future. And while the Municipality recently coined the slogan "Big Wild Life" as our city's new motto, some residents, based on their survey responses, might have picked some different slogans, such as "Big Expensive Homes", "Unaffordable Health Care", or "Too Much Violence". A total of 400 people were randomly selected for a telephonic survey, and an additional 1,000 lower-middle and low-income people were selected for face-to-face interviews.

Here are some highlights, combined with some of my own observations:

1). The people. Almost an even split between men and women. 66% of residents live in family households, 34% in non-family households. Racial breakdown of the city (as of 2005) as follows:

White - 69.8%
Multi-racial - 8.2%
Asian - 7.0%
Black - 6.2%
Alaska Native - 6.0%
Pacific Islander - 0.9%

Latino (any race) - 7.0%

However, the racial breakdown of students (as of 2005-06) in the Anchorage School District portends a "darkening" future, so to speak:

White - 54.9%
Alaska Native - 13.2%
Asian/Pacific Islander - 11.0%
Black - 7.7%
*Other - 6.7%
Hispanic - 6.4%

*Other is probably mostly multiracial. The Anchorage School District uses a different methodology than the American Community Survey. While ACS groups Asians and Pacific Islanders separately, ASD combines them. However, the biggest difference is that ASD calculates the Hispanic student population as a separate group altogether. They don't indicate what percentage of Hispanics consider themselves white. Therefore, to imply that Anchorage in the future will change from 69.8% white to 54.9% would not only be excessively pessimistic, but would also be inaccurate. It will change, but more slowly.

However, we can also derive a trend simply by comparing stats for the three levels of education. In 2005-06, the percentage of white students dropped from 59.1% in high school to 56.2% in middle school and down to 52.2% in elementary school. So that also indicates a steadily "darkening" trend. At the same time, the biggest increase between the three levels of education is with "Other", or multi-racial students. While making up 3.5% of high school students, multi-racials make up 4.4% of middle school students and a whopping 9.3% of elementary school students. This indicates that "race-mixing" has really taken off in recent years. The Anchorage School District's Profiles of Performance from 2005-06 also indicate that multi-racial students also produced the highest percentage of dropouts at five of the district's eight standard high schools.

2). The economy. There are lots of jobs, but wages are stagnant and the cost of living is beginning to soar, especially in the housing, energy and health care sectors. The low-wage service sector provides the greatest number of jobs - 40,000 in 2002. Average per-capita income rose 16.0%, from $33,697 to $39,080 during the period from 2000 to 2004. The consumer price index rose 13.9% during that time. However, the average price of a home in Anchorage rose 43.5% - from $212,048 to a stratospheric $304,214 from 2001 to 2006. The precentage of local residents below the Federal poverty line is 7.4%. And here's a personal observation - during the past three months alone, the price of an 8-ounce jar of Best Foods mayonnnaise has risen from $1.19 to $1.55 at Fred Meyers. Inflation has become much more noticeable in Anchorage during the past two years, although a local supermarket chain, Carr's (a subsidiary of Safeway) mitigates this somewhat by providing "Safeway Club" cards and discounting a reasonable sample of goods each week.

3). The underclass. A third of the people interviewed in low-income neighborhoods reported spending more than 50 percent of their take-home pay on rent or housing alone. And 45,000 Anchorage residents have no health insurance (around 16% of the city's population). Asked in a phone survey what basic need they went without last year, 50% of respondents said health care and 33% said food.

4). The environment. Anchorage gets high marks for air quality and outdoor recreation opportunities, but many expressed displeasure with "unplanned growth" and "littering." The report notes that the state has declared 13 water bodies -- including Westchester Lagoon and University Lake -- "impaired" by fecal coliform bacteria, primarily from dog excrement. Some of these areas were approved as "dog parks" by the Anchorage Municipal Assembly years ago, in response to pet owners who demanded the government provide them with designated areas to run their dogs. Part of the littering problem is created by smokers who thoughtlessly discard their smoking materials on the ground, perpetuating and exacerbating negative biases and stereotypes against smokers, and helping to create a political climate encouraging the passage of two anti-smoking ordinances and an increased municipal tobacco tax during the past five years.

5). Public safety. While more than half of the people in a telephone survey said they were "not at all fearful" of crime in their own neighborhood, only a fifth said they were "not at all fearful" of crime in the city as a whole. While the number of thefts declined by half from 2001 to 2005, the number of aggravated assaults increased by a quarter. And from 2004 to 2005, the number of domestic violence incidents involving firearms rose from 44 to 78. About 23% of Anchorage 11th graders report having been physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend. The national rate is fewer than 10%; 12% say they have been forced to have sex.

Juvenile arrests and convictions have dropped during the last three-year reporting period from 2002-05. Arrests have dropped by 30.8%, and offense rates by 24.8%, despite the fact that back in October, the Anchorage Police Department estimated that there were around 700 gangbangers in Anchorage. However, there is a racial correlation to adult crime mirroring the trends presented in Jared Taylor's critically-acclaimed research reports, The Color of Crime and Hispanics: A Statistical Portrait:

Arrests in 2005:

White - 7,963 arrests, 55.7% of total arrests, 69.8% of the population
Alaska Native - 3,131 arrests, 21.9% of total arrests, 6.0% of the population
Black - 2,184 arrests, 15.2% of total arrests, 6.2% of the population
Asian - 703 arrests, 4.9% of total arrests, 7.0% of the population
Unknown - 325 arrests, 2.3% of total arrests

So the nationwide trend of blacks and Alaska Natives/American Indians committing a disproportionately high percentage of crime is also replicated in Anchorage. However, arrests do NOT always lead to convictions, and laws can change, so this data should be considered advisory rather than authoritative. Hispanics are not grouped separately, so they are probably categorized into one of the other four groups based on pigmentation.

Emergency Services Response and Performance: 91.2% of respondents are highly satisfied with fire service, 82.1% with police service. Only 59.4% are highly satisfied with the 911 service and resultant response time, which is more reflective of personnel shortages within the ranks of dispatchers and police officers rather than any negligence or misconduct. The police shortfall is being incrementally resolved.

The Anchorage Community Assessment Project Comprehensive Report can be viewed categorically. Click on the highlighted links below to view the desired report (all reports in PDF format):

1). Executive Summary - 28 pages, includes table of contents.

2). Demographics - 10 pages

3). Economy - 16 pages

4). Education - 40 pages

5). Health - 58 pages

6). Natural Environment - 20 pages

7). Public Safety - 24 pages

8). Social Environment - 28 pages

Analysis: On the whole, Anchorage is still a good place to live, and a better place than most cities of comparable size and influence in the Lower 48. Unemployment is low in the Anchorage metro area, although the fastest growing sectors are the lower-wage service and retail sectors. If a natural gas pipeline contract is signed, look for an explosion of higher-wage oil-related jobs. Crime is relatively static except for aggravated assault and domestic violence; property crimes have decreased. Like most Lower 48 cities, Anchorage's racial demographics are changing, as the city is slowly darkening. Yet unlike many Lower 48 cities, race is generally not tolerated as an excuse for misbehavior, although there's a Native preference in hiring for certain jobs, where established by Federal law. Anchorage's greenbelt is the envy of many Lower 48 cities. The Anchorage School District, in relative terms, is amongst the top 10% of public school districts in the country and its transparency in reporting to the public is exemplary.

However, the knottiest problems for our city to solve will be housing and health care. Ninety percent of the developable land in the Anchorage Bowl has been used or designated for use; consequently, home prices will continue to rise, albeit more slowly. The Knik Arm Bridge, which may be completed by 2012 if it ever gets approved, will create an incentive for more people to settle in the Point Mackenzie area across the Knik Arm, but this at worst would only slowly deflate Anchorage's housing bubble. Mobile home parks as a low-cost single-family housing alternative will be limited; I envision only the largest 4 or 5 mobile home parks surviving over the next 10 years.

Solving the health care problems will require a team effort from the state and the Federal government. We need to establish the principle that no American citizen should ever be required to personally bankrupt himself or herself to get necessary or therapeutic health care (this means health care necessary to preserve life or health). It is unacceptable that in the richest nation on earth a citizen should ever have to sell his primary home or destroy retirement savings just to pay for therapeutic health care, even if the health care is necessary due to personal misconduct. We need a balance of compassion and competition. Once we accept this paradigm, we will make progress in solving the problem.

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