Americans Voice Concerns Over Children’s Issues, Crime and Civic Participation in ‘Community Indicators’ Survey

MIAMI – The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today released national findings from its Community Indicators Project, a groundbreaking national study examining social attitudes and concerns based on an in-depth nationwide poll and similar surveys in 26 disparate communities where the Foundation makes local grants.

Based on the results, it is clear that Americans are hungry for ways to address issues affecting children and youth, crime and civic participation.

Individual surveys were conducted in 26 communities including major metropolitan areas such as Miami, San Jose, Detroit and Philadelphia, as well as smaller communities such as Boulder, Colo., State College, Pa., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Grand Forks, N.D.

"These findings are a strong indication that nationally and within each of Knight foundation's 26 communities, people care a great deal more about close-to-home issues than they see reflected in the national political debate," said Hodding Carter III, president and CEO of Knight Foundation. "But while there are remarkable strains of consistency from community to community, there are also unmistakable differences of outlook based on race and class."

The surveys reveal a real desire to make national and local priorities of issues affecting children and youth, crime and civic participation. Certain findings remain constant without regard to community size or location.

  • Nationally, three in five Americans say too many unsupervised children and teenagers are a problem in their own community. And that finding is echoed in each of the 26 communities, where a majority of residents identified unsupervised young people as a significant local problem where they live.

In Philadelphia, three out of four residents expressed that concern, as did 63 percent in Detroit. But the view was much the same in smaller communities. In Columbus, Ga., 68 percent felt unsupervised children were a problem, as did 71 percent of those in Aberdeen, S.D.

Among other national findings:

  • About six in 10 adults give positive ratings to their own local public schools. But opinions vary from community to community, regardless of size. In Charlotte, N.C., Gary, Ind., Palm Beach County, Fla. and Macon. Ga., less than half of those asked gave positive ratings to their public schools.
  • Despite the continuing discussion of transferring power out of Washington, D.C., Americans generally give lower marks to their local city or town governments than to other local institutions. Nationally, 40 percent of Americans give their local governments negative ratings, far more than the 24 percent who rate the police that poorly or the six percent who do so for their fire department.
  • The record-setting economy has not eliminated concerns about unemployment, homelessness, and affordable housing and affordable child care. Across the country, 54 percent see unemployment as a problem, despite a national unemployment rate below 5 percent.
  • Perceptions of unemployment highlight the reality that white Americans and minority Americans often have different perceptions of the problems their communities face. For example, about two-thirds of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics say that unemployment is a problem where they live – even with the nation's long-running economic boom. That figure drops to half among white Americans.
  • Most Americans feel very safe from the threat of crime in their homes and in their neighborhoods. But the surveys demonstrate that fears for your safety are not just a big-city issue: the residents in Milledgeville and Macon, Ga., are just as fearful walking in their own neighborhoods at night as are residents of Miami.
  • Amid the challenges, Americans have a clear-eyed view of their community. They like where they live. They can put their finger on specific local problems. And they believe they can do something to make things better. More than eight in 10 adults give positive ratings to their community, and three in four believe they can have an impact on making their community a better place to live.

The survey also addressed issues such as Internet usage, the credibility of the news media and religious attendance.

Conducted in 1999, the Community Indicators project is designed to help Knight Foundation staff, trustees and advisers use objective evidence to develop national grant programs and initiatives as well as local projects to help sustain their commitment to Knight communities.

"The project is a unique combination of the broad sweep of a national survey, coupled with an incredibly rich portrait of 26 specific American communities," said Evans Witt, president of Princeton Survey Research Associates, a partner in the project.

Working with its research partners, Knight Foundation conducted surveys among 500 to 1,300 residents in 26 communities to gauge attitudes and behaviors in the foundation's seven priority areas: arts and culture, children/social welfare, citizenship, community development, education, homelessness and literacy. A national survey of 1,200 adults provided an additional baseline of U.S. attitudes and behaviors.

Beyond the surveys, the project collected detailed factual profiles of the 26 cities, including indicators such as high school graduation rates and infant mortality rates.

More information on the surveys, including comparisons, 26 community reports and questions asked, can be found at www.knightfdn.org.

Established in 1950, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation makes national grants in journalism, education and arts and culture. Its fourth program, community initiatives, is concentrated in 26 communities where the Knight brothers published newspapers, but the Foundation is wholly separate from and independent of those newspapers.

Knight foundation's communities are: Aberdeen,'s .D.; Akron, Ohio; Biloxi, Miss.; Boca Raton, Fla.; Boulder, Colo.; Bradenton, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia,'s .C.; Columbus, Ga.; Detroit; Duluth, Minn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Gary, Ind.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Lexington, Ky.; Long Beach, Calif.; Macon, Ga.; Miami; Milledgeville, Ga.; Myrtle Beach,'s .C.; Philadelphia; St. Paul, Minn.; San Jose, Calif.; State College, Pa.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.