Dr. Stephen Klineberg has been tracking trends and opinions in the Houston area for 28 years. Klineberg is a sociologist and professor at Rice University. His annual Houston Area Survey gives a data-rich snapshot of the shifts and changes in Houston over time. And right now 44 percent of respondents say the biggest problem facing people is the economy.
“Jump from 15 percent to 44 percent, spontaneously saying the economy is the biggest problem. And the last time there was anything like that kind of jump was at the depths of the recession between 1986 and 1987 when boomtown Houston, we suddenly said my god the biggest problem in boomtown Houston is the economy, poverty. And the same sort of sense of anxiety and preoccupation with the economy is there.”
In the past, crime and transportation have topped the list of perceived problems. Klineberg says it’s a reflection on the fact that Houston has caught up with the rest of the country when it comes to economic concerns.
And though 44 percent said the economy is the biggest problem, the same percentage also said Houston is a much better place to live compared to other metropolitan areas.
“There is a clear recognition that there is a — it’s very nice to be in Houston as opposed to anywhere else in the nation where the unemployment rate is 8.2 percent. Houston, at 6.3 percent, is bad and there are some serious problems. One quarter of all Houstonians in our surveys said that they had difficulty in the last year buying the groceries they needed to feed their families. So there is real suffering and really serious problems, but it’s a whole lot better to be in Houston than anywhere else in the country.”
Klineberg says the results demonstrate a typically Houston combination of concern and optimism.
“The great challenge for Houston is to remain the energy capitol of the world when it’s no longer oil and gas. And we all understand that, we’ve got a couple decades here but not much more than that to regroup and become energy companies as opposed to oil companies. And we still have a vigorous economy in a variety of ways. But I don’t want to underestimate for a minute the serious hunger and homelessness and anxieties that this recession is creating and the tremendous needs that are out there that all of us need to be sensitive to.”
The Houston Area Survey uses a scientifically selected sample that represents the make-up of the population. The same questions are asked each year, so researchers can track how opinions change in Houston over time.
The results will be officially released to the public tomorrow.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.