January 2014: Top Challenges
About the Survey
Over the first two weeks of October, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conducted its second semiannual New England Community Outlook Survey. This time period coincided with the government shutdown. Consequently, many of the respondents expressed concern regarding its effect on their organizations. Because the survey took place during the shutdown, many of the effects described by respondents may not provide a complete picture, as many respondents were unsure of when the shutdown would end or what the post-shutdown environment would look like. The survey covered topics ranging from the availability of credit to small businesses to emerging issues facing lower-income communities. The responses revealed trends about the challenges faced by lower-income families and the organizations that serve them. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents classify themselves as serving exclusively rural populations and an additional 38% as serving both rural and urban areas. Taken together, this means over 60% of the respondents classify themselves as serving rural populations in New England to some extent. What we found was that New England’s rural communities face similar challenges as their urban counterparts, but their responses often differ.
Top Challenges Facing Lower-Income Communities
Respondents ranked job availability, access to affordable housing, federal and state budget cuts, and K–12 education as the top five challenges for the six months covering May to October 2013. (Figure 1) The same top five challenges were highlighted in previous six month period (November, 2012 to April, 2013). Credit scores and home foreclosures appear on the list of the top 10 challenges, displacing crime and vacant properties.
New England is by no means unique. The unpredictability of government funding and policy affects lower-income service providers all over the country. The New England Community Outlook Survey provides a glimpse into the headwinds faced by providers in our region. link to new england rural poor
For the past two years, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has conducted the New England Community Outlook Survey. The respondents represent organizations providing direct services to lower-income households. Organizations are asked twice a year to designate a senior staff member to respond to the six-minute survey. For the latest iteration of the survey, 160 service providers from the economic development, affordable housing, community action, human services, and workforce development sectors in each of the six New England states responded to 22 multiple-choice and fill-in questions. We asked respondents to comment on the changes in conditions over the previous six months and to project changes over the next six months. Respondents completed the survey between October 1 and October 18, 2013. For the purposes of this report, USDA Rural Urban Commuting Areas (RUCA) from 2006 were used to classify zip codes as either rural or urban. Data collected represent the opinions of service providers who completed the survey. While we strive to include a reasonably representative sample in our survey, responses should not be interpreted to represent the opinions of all service providers in New England.