Danville Region Residents Rate Quality of Life High, But Have Concerns About the Future, U.Va. Study Finds

October 15, 2009 — Despite experiencing economic setbacks, Danville-area residents rate their region fairly high for quality of life, with a strong sense of community, social connectedness and religious involvement. But civic involvement lags somewhat behind averages elsewhere and many residents worry about their children's future.

The conclusions come from a survey conducted for the Danville Regional Foundation by the University of Virginia's Center for Survey Research.

A key finding of the 2009 Danville Region Social Capital Survey is that residents give overall quality of life a strong rating of 7.3 on a scale of 10.

"This rating suggests that residents have a high regard for the quality of life in the region," said Karl N. Stauber, president of the Danville Regional Foundation. "Compared to similar studies in other communities in Virginia, the rating is somewhat lower, but not dramatically so."

For example, the satisfaction rating was about the same in similar surveys in more affluent and populous Spotsylvania and Prince William counties, but higher in the Charlottesville and Bedford areas.

The survey was conducted in April with 1,026 randomly selected residents of the city of Danville and Pittsylvania County and neighboring Caswell County, N.C, contacted via landline and cellular phones. Residents of Caswell and Pittsylvania counties rated the quality of life in their communities on average more than a point higher than those who live in the city.

There is also a deep sense of economic unease during the current recession, with nearly 70 percent saying their children would be better off living and working elsewhere when they are grown.

"Longtime residents are concerned about the quality of life in the Danville region in the future," Stauber said. "There are areas such as education, health care, youth opportunities and employment that residents want to improve and, with community involvement, they can."

The term "social capital" refers to people's relations with one another, trust and involvement, and ability to work together through collective effort.

Measuring views about connectedness to the community serves as an indication of
community strength and vitality, said Thomas N. Guterbock, director of the U.Va. Center for Survey Research, which has conducted similar studies on a national scale.

"A community with abundant social capital is better able to meet the economic needs of residents and protect the quality of life of its residents. If social capital can be strengthened in a community, then the capacity of that community to provide for its residents is enhanced," he said.

One purpose of the survey was to gather baseline data to compare to results of future surveys and see if quality of life is improving. One of its key design features was to use some measures that can be compared statewide and nationally.

Findings of the survey include:

• Overall Quality of Life. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents the worst possible community in which to live and 10 represents the best, residents of the Danville region gave it a mean rating of 7.3. This suggests that residents have a high regard for their quality of life.

• Community Attachment. Overall the residents of the Danville region have a strong sense of community, close to a national average. Most residents have neighbors or relatives in their neighborhood or nearby to support them. They also feel they have an impact in making their community a better place to live. But some expressed concern for safety in shopping areas and schools.

• Civic Participation. Residents of the Danville region are highly church-oriented. Nearly 60 percent said they attend religious services almost every week, and only one out of 10 indicated they seldom attend religious services. This is significantly higher than national averages.

Membership in community organizations was another measure of civic participation in the study. The average number of groups to which area residents indicate they belong was 3.5, compared to 3.3 in a national study. Compared to the nation, Danville residents show a higher percentage of people who belong to religious organizations, organizations for older adults and civic organizations, but a lower number who belong to labor unions, professional and trade associations, and neighborhood associations. While organizational membership is strong, volunteering in community organizations is lower in the Danville region compared to a national study.

• Political Participation. Voter participation in the 2008 presidential election was extremely high and probably reflects the heightened rates of interest in that highly competitive and historic election.

However, only one-third of respondents indicated that they have been actively involved in political activities such as petitions, political campaigns and working with others in their community to solve problems. By contrast, nearly 50 percent of the residents in northwestern states, in a survey conducted there, said they worked together with members of their community to solve problems.

• People in the Economy. More than 50 percent said they had been negatively affected by the current recession. A significant number of area residents are currently unemployed, temporarily laid off or disabled, and only working part-time. While most of employed residents said they derive meaning from their work and feel a sense of accomplishment, a significant number of those in the work force are working more than 40 hours a week and holding more than one job to make ends meet.

• Children and Schools. More than three-fourths of respondents said that the Danville region is a good place to raise children. But nearly 70 percent said that when young people are ready to leave home, it would be better for them to move to some other area. "This result reflects the ailing economy and is in strong contrast with the otherwise high satisfaction with quality of life," said Deborah L. Rexrode¸ co-author of the U.Va. report.

Area residents said the biggest challenges affecting children and youth in the Danville region are the lack of jobs and recreation opportunities, and availability of drugs. Respondents showed strong support for education to provide a better quality of life for their children.

• Health Issues. The overall perception of the health of residents in the Danville region is lower than either state or national norms. In a 2008 survey sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly 60 percent of Virginia residents rated their overall health as excellent or very good and 30 percent rated it as good. But only slightly more than 50 percent of Danville residents rated their overall health status as excellent or very good with another 30 percent rating it as good. While some residents have difficulty getting health care, most indicated they are able to get doctor's appointments when they need them.

"Given that the region has suffered from economic setbacks, our overall level of social capital is fairly strong in terms of community attachment, social connectedness and religious involvement, but in need of development in areas of civic engagement," Stauber said. "The survey points to ways we can improve our quality of life."

The Danville Regional Foundation was established in 2005 to invest and distribute $200 million from the sale of Danville Regional Medical Center. The foundation seeks to develop and support programs and organizations that improve the health, welfare and education of area residents and awards grants benefitting the region.

— By Rebecca Arrington