Western Pennsylvania residents are happy with their lives, survey shows

'There's an attachment to neighbors and neighborhoods'

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The Pittsburgh region's residents are generally happy with their quality of life and their prospects for the future, according to a comprehensive survey measuring their perspectives on factors such as the economy, education, health, housing and public safety.

Researchers for the University of Pittsburgh found that 81 percent of people living in the 32-county region including and surrounding Pittsburgh rated their overall quality of life as good, very good or excellent, and most plan to continue living here for the foreseeable future, according to the survey by Pitt's University Center for Social and Urban Research.

Residents rated connection to their community as particularly strong, said Doug Heuck, director of PittsburghTODAY, a local think tank that helped direct the study.

"One of the salient reasons why Pittsburgh does so well in these rankings is that people know each other here," Mr. Heuck said. "There is an intact social fabric, ... there's an attachment to neighbors and neighborhoods and a general satisfaction with their lives here."

However, the survey did find some serious problems, including a large gap in the quality of life between African-Americans and the regional population as a whole and the transportation infrastructure.

In the most far-reaching extensive local survey of its kind, researchers interviewed 1,800 residents by phone between July and November 2011 in an extensive, 30-minute conversation that measured their views on 10 areas: arts and culture, the economy, education, environment, government, health, housing and neighborhoods, public safety, transportation and overall satisfaction with life. Interviewees lived in Allegheny County and the six counties surrounding it, along with an additional 25 nearby counties including contiguous areas of Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia.

The survey results are available at www.pittsburghtoday.org and www.ucsur.pitt.edu.

Researchers also asked residents their views on drilling in the Marcellus Shale. They found 83 percent of interviewees think there is some environmental and public health threat from drilling. A greater percentage of area residents support drilling than oppose it, especially outside Allegheny County, with 44 percent of residents supporting extraction of the gas, compared to 4 percent opposing the practice, according to researchers.

Surveyors also found that respondents rated their lives a 7.8 on a scale of 1 to 10 for happiness, compared to the national average of 7.4. About 74 percent of residents speak with neighbors several times a month and 38 percent do so daily.

While African-Americans reported similar rates of happiness and satisfaction, it was in spite of problems they reported far more frequently than did residents overall. Only 26.5 percent of African-Americans rated regional quality of life as excellent or very good, compared to 54 percent of other races.

Only 14.9 percent of African-Americans rated their schools as very safe, compared to 51.4 percent of residents of other races. Nearly 5.5 percent reported having been the victim of a violent crime -- almost three times the rate of other races. And nearly 18 percent said they often or always struggle paying for housing and necessities -- more than double the rate reported by other races.

Still, African-Americans were more likely to believe that the regional (37 percent) and national (39 percent) economy will improve, compared to 23 percent of people of other races. And more than 41 percent of African-Americans reported their financial situation has improved over the past three years, compared to 23.6 percent of residents of other races.

The results suggest resiliency, said Scott Beach, one of the survey's authors.

"They are more than willing to tell you there are problems out there, but when you ask about their personal situation, they are just as likely to say they're happy as other people," he said.

Correction/Clarification: (Published August 4, 2012) Eighty-one percent of respondents to a survey by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research said their overall quality of life was good, very good or excellent. And 83 percent of those surveyed said they believe there is some environmental and public health threat from drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale. The percentages were incorrect in a story Wednesday about the survey.
state - lifestyle

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com.


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