Hou cares

Major new Rice study reveals what Houstonians care about most in 2021

The annual survey revealed that the percentage of Houston-area residents who had a positive view of the local job market dropped slightly. Photo via Getty Images

Few studies gauge the barometric pressure of the Bayou City like the Kinder Houston Area Survey.

Designed to take the temperature of the general population, the study — now in its 40th year — reveals a Houston citizenry optimistic about its personal futures, per the report.

A little about the study before delving in: The report was conducted by the esteemed Stephen Klineberg, founding director of Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research and emeritus professor of sociology; and Robert Bozick, senior research fellow at the Kinder Institute.

This new survey was unveiled at the Kinder Institute's "Lunch-Out" recent virtual event. Interviews of some 1,051 Harris County adults were conducted between January 18 and March 29 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The full report is available online.

The No. 1 concern

Public health concerns, while rarely registering in previous surveys, were cited as the biggest problem facing Houstonians this year, according to a press release. Some 25 percent of respondents cited the pandemic or health-related issues.

Others — 20 percent — pointed to the economy as the biggest problem, that's up from 13 percent last year. Only 14 percent cited crime, and traffic dropped to 13 percent, down from 30 percent last year.

Highlighting a national socioeconomic disparity, 58 percent of Blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics said they had to risk exposure to the coronavirus to keep their jobs during the past year, per the report. That's compared to 41 percent of Asians and only 36 percent of whites.

Additionally, the report notes that Blacks and Hispanics were more likely (at 73 percent and 67 percent, respectively) to know someone who was hospitalized with or died as a result of having COVID-19, compared with whites (57 percent) and Asians (40 percent).

Mental health issues have arisen as a serious problem in equal numbers across ethnic communities. More than 50 percent of respondents — in all four groups — reported feeling more stress and experiencing more emotional problems during the past year, compared with 2020.

Jobs and the economy

Though Houston is an opportunity city, the Kinder Survey revealed that the percentage of Houston-area residents who had a positive view of the local job market dropped slightly, to 61 percent this year from 68 percent in 2020.

A mere 21 percent reported their economic situations were getting better, down from 34 percent in 2020. Notably — for the first time in the 40 years — of the survey, more respondents (25 percent) said their financial situations were getting worse than getting better.

Blacks and Hispanics were also more likely than Asians and whites to have experienced a loss of income and to have received help from government programs in the past year.

Race relations, immigration, and inequity

Positive ratings of relations among ethnic groups in the Houston area declined across the board, especially among Blacks. Whites and Hispanics were significantly more likely than in previous years to agree that Blacks are still a long way from having the same opportunities in life as whites.

The number of people who said the criminal justice system is biased against Blacks increased to 54 percent from 32 percent in 2015, when the question was last asked, per a release.

Weather, religion, and politics

Area residents were less likely than in previous surveys to say it's virtually certain the region will experience more severe storms in coming years (59 percent in 2021, compared with 81 percent in 2018 and 2020).

The number of religious Houstonians continues to decline, with more people than ever indicating they are not part of any faith tradition (22 percent today, compared with 8 percent in 2008) and do not consider religion to be an important part of their lives (26 percent, compared with 10 percent in 2008), per the study.

Meanwhile, 45 percent of those surveyed said they felt closer to the Democratic Party this year, while only 25 percent voiced support for the Republican Party.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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