Call them community indicators. Call them data points. Call them snapshots. Call them dashboards. Call them metrics.
According to the century-old Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research (CGR), 59 community indicators taken together “tell the story of our area.” “For each measure,” we are told, we “will discover a description of the indicator, a brief analysis of trends, charts displaying trends over time, and tables providing data for the three counties in our region plus comparisons to the state and region.”
By identifying our region’s strengths and challenges together, we are told, “we can move forward toward achieving the vision we have for our community and improve the overall quality of life for our residents.” Our participation will be necessary.
Multivariate statistics involves examining relationships among multiple variables at the same time. The goal is to establish how the different variables affect each other.
Quick-and-dirty social science has less lofty ambitions. Its indicators involve the simultaneous presentation of various types of data that seem to be related to each other. They lay the indicators all out there, get paid for assembling them, and hope for the best. Though American county-level or metro-area data from various data bases might or might not provide a coherent overall picture, they can generate clues. Comparison of geographic areas to each other are convenient and informative.
Five years ago, the Dyson Foundation and two partners with which it has worked closely, the Dutchess-Orange United Way and the Community Foundation of the Hudson Valley, decided to buy into a CGR-run community indicators project to bring together the 59 data sources for Orange, Dutchess and Ulster counties. On August 16 an update was released.
Three paragraphs of bland and often misleading generalities summarized the latest CGR three-county portrait. At least you won’t have to wait very long for the outcome.
“The mid-Hudson Valley is a healthy region of New York, outperforming state trends on several key measures. Despite a decline in 2009 [the worst recession since the 1930s], the region’s economy continued to grow over the past decade [it depends what years you use], and poverty levels are lower than both state and national averages. Educational levels among adults have been rising steadily [like almost everywhere else], and the region is continuing to see declines in crime rates and residents without health insurance [ditto].” Brackets are mine.
Oh, there’s a footnote: “In this report, comparisons to state statistics reflect the state excluding New York City.” That’s interesting. The balance of the state has lost 50,000 jobs in the past 20 years, while New York City has gained 765,000. Given that footnote, it’s not entirely surprising that the mid-Hudson Valley is outperforming balance-of-the-state trends in several key measures.
There are few surprises in the CGR update. Most people are familiar with the basis demographics: an aging population, increasing minorities, different family patterns.
Much of the data has to do with social services, family support, education and civic participation. In the CFR lexicon, we don’t have problems, we face challenges.
Since I pretend to know more about the economy than about other stuff, I looked up that section of the CGR update for the three mid-Hudson counties on-line. The four economic indicators are job growth or loss, major employment sectors, spending by county government, and tourism revenue.
“Despite a small decline in jobs over the past year, regional job growth has been strong through the decade,” says CGR. According to state labor statistics, there’s been no job growth between 2008 and 2016. The substantial job growth between 2000 and 2008 was due to two things — a change in the definition of the labor force and Orange County’s population surge. The most jobs have been created by residents increasingly commuting to work in jobs outside the region, a factor CGR’s indicators don’t explore.
Changes in job quality in the tricounty region has been no different than it has been on the outskirts of large metropolitan areas. Helped by the state tax cap and their own considerable efforts, the three county governments succeeded in reining in overall spending. The acceleration in tourism revenues noted particularly in Ulster County have been a consequence of an improving New York City economy, a larger investment in several innovative types of hospitality businesses, and a generational change which is just beginning to come into its own.
The indicators are but the beginning, only the beginning. The real payoff comes when peers meet, folks talk, experts explain, improvements occur, life improves. Only change tells the real story of our area.