Vital information to have

Fewer than 200 people responded to the Vital Signs survey for this year’s report. That’s a shame, but unlike the Canada Census long form, this report doesn’t claim scientific accuracy. Right from the top, Vital Signs says it is designed to be a starting point for conversations.

Fewer than 200 people responded to the Vital Signs survey for this year’s report. That’s a shame, but unlike the Canada Census long form, this report doesn’t claim scientific accuracy. Right from the top, Vital Signs says it is designed to be a starting point for conversations.

The people at the Red Deer Community Foundation who wrote the Vital Signs report also gathered a fair amount of statistical research into the economy of Red Deer; how much we earn, how much we spend, how our local businesses are doing. These numbers put a perspective on the comments of the minority who did respond, and in many ways make their personal comments more telling.

So let’s talk. The full report is at reddeersvitalsigns.ca, and the condensed version was inserted into Wednesday’s Advocate.

Both put a positive spin on life in our city, as well they should. All things considered, Red Deer is a great place to live.

You have to surmise that during a recession when incomes are dropping, that things are still OK when three of the top four strengths of our city are still our parks and trails, opportunities for recreation, sports and active living, and our arts community. The economy was listed at No. 3 of our strengths, with 24 per cent of respondents selecting that checkmark.

The top four “issues” (negative items) facing Red Deer have interrelations. They were listed as: poverty/homelessness/hunger; crime/law and order; human services/social safety net/social programs; and health care/health care system.

You could suggest these are more a reflection of the people taking the survey and that a larger sample might have produced different results. We’re not told a lot about the respondents, but Vital Signs did mention that the majority of respondents had been volunteers. Probably more so than the community at large, and more likely therefore to be sensitive to issues like health and poverty.

But at least their views are backed by the numbers.

Median household incomes in Red Deer are down, says the report. Once a strapping $83,310 in 2008, today half of Red Deer households earn 79,480 or less. The provincial median stands at $83,560.

That’s despite a 4.7 per cent increase in real gross domestic product, which topped the 3.9 per cent rise in real GDP from 2001 to 2009. We may be earning less, but we’re producing more — $107,725 per worker. Mention that next time you ask for a raise.

For reasons only companies hiring unskilled labour can answer, Red Deer’s education levels are shockingly low. Just over 22 per cent of city residents over the age of 15 and not going to school have not completed high school. Only 43 per cent of people in our region have completed post-secondary education (the national average is just under 52 per cent).

Poor education goes hand-in-hand with crime. Our property crime rate is more than double the national average, rated on incidence per 100,000 people, and at 2,419 is 68 per cent higher than the provincial average. And that’s with a general downward trending of crime since 1998.

Violent crime at 2,419 per 100,000 in Red Deer was 88.7 per cent above the national average (1,282) and 63.9 percent above the provincial average (1,476).

And, for conversation’s sake, we still have 28 per cent fewer police officers than the national average and 17.5 per cent less than the provincial average.

Good thing taxes ranked well down the list of “issues” in the report. Could there be room for growth in policing?

We haven’t even touched health and social issues in the report, so there is plenty of scope for more conversation.

Please read the Vital Signs report. It’s valuable for understanding our city.

And next year, plan to respond to their survey.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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