In a joint effort by Berks County Community Foundation (BCCF) and Alvernia University, a new 66 page "Community Indicators Report" has been released offering a new look at both hard numbers and public opinion on topics such as population, education, healthcare, crime and the environment in Berks County.
Alvernia University's O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service compiled the data and partnered with the Public Opinion Center of the Floyd Institute at Franklin and Marshall College to conduct the opinion polling.
“We wanted to take a look at issues that are important to the community,” said David Myers, director of the O’Pake Institute. “Part of our mission is to promote dialogue on important civic issues and this report provides a starting point for those conversations.”
Divided into a dozen categories, the report showed that residents are happy with many aspects of life in Berks County, including quality of life, education, healthcare, housing, living and spending, environment and entertainment.
Categories that show dissatisfaction include population and diversity, employment and the economy, transportation and safety.
“The good news is that overall Berks County residents feel good about their community,” said Kevin K. Murphy, foundation president. “There is a general sense that the quality of life here is good, although people don’t necessarily think it is improving. There are certainly issues that need to be addressed, particularly those related to poverty in the City of Reading.”
In some cases, local opinions tell a different story than the publicly available data. For instance, while people feel good about the cost of living, the low cost of living comes at a price: One in seven families with children in the county live in poverty. And in the city, that number rises to one in three families. The average home value in Berks is $186,454, less than both the state average of $202,327 and the average prices in neighboring Lehigh ($229,553) and Lancaster ($216,321) counties.
While the unemployment rate in Berks County is better than both state and national averages, the percentage of people who leave the county for work has increased by 5.2% over the past decade. The opinion polls show a concern among respondents about the ability to find jobs in the county for themselves and for their children.
The report includes graphs, maps, and charts that illustrate various data points specific to Berks County. An update is expected to be completed periodically, providing an opportunity to track progress on key issues over time.
“We clearly have work to do in Berks County,” Murphy said. “But there are bright spots, too. People like their community, and based on their willingness to participate in this research, care about its future.”