Economy, crime are top concerns among Houstonians in new Kinder Houston Area Survey

A post-pandemic Houston has more residents concerned about the economy and crime, in the latest Kinder Houston Area Survey. The 41st annual report from Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research shows a general pessimism and desire for government intervention, among respondents.

The survey provides a closely followed snapshot of concerns and interests, as it has charted Houston's evolution, over the last four decades.

Economic concerns, identified by 28% of survey respondents as the biggest problem facing people in the Houston area, were the highest priority for residents this year, up from 20% last year. Crime came in a close second at 25% (up from 14%), COVID-19/public health was next at 15% (down from 25% in 2021), and traffic congestion followed at 12% (down from 42% in 2019, the last representative year because of the impact of the pandemic).

36% of respondents reported that their financial situation has gotten better (up from 21% last year). But only half of those surveyed, the lowest number ever, said they expected to be better off three or four years down the road.

Further, 29% said they would have trouble coming up with $400 in an emergency, with significant disparity based on race/ethnicity: 47% of Blacks and 40% of Hispanics indicated they would not be able to come up with that kind of money, compared with 13% of Whites and 20% of Asians.

23% said they were unable to make at least one rent or mortgage payment during the past year. Again, the survey showed a significant disparity based on race, with 39% of Blacks and 28% of Hispanics saying they had problems covering their housing costs in the last year, compared with 9% of Whites and 8% of Asians.

Among national issues, the survey was conducted before news leaked that the Supreme Court may vote to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Still, 64% of Houstonians expressed support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion "if she wants one for any reason," and 92% support that right if the woman’s health is seriously endangered. There is, however, a deep partisan divide on the topic, with 81% of Democrats and 33% of Republicans saying abortion for any reason should be legal.

Democrats and Republicans alike overwhelmingly support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, at 94% and 81%, respectively. The idea of 'recreational use' was more polarizing, supported by 75% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans.

Trust in core American institutions is low across the board, especially the news media and Congress, at just 9% and 5%, respectively. Organized religion came in next at 13%, followed by public education at 14%, banks at 15%, the Supreme Court at 18%, the office of the president at 19% and the military at 34%. The scientific and medical community garnered the highest percentage expressing confidence, at 54%.

This year’s survey reflects a continuing drop in the belief that minorities have the same opportunities as Whites. The number of non-Hispanic Whites who agree with that sentiment fell from 64% in the 2020 survey to 49% in 2022; the percentage dropped from 66% to 43% among Hispanics, and from 29% to 17% among Blacks.

The report notes, "For the first time over the years of the surveys, majorities in all three of Houston’s largest ethnic communities now agree in acknowledging the racial inequities in access to economic opportunity in American society today."

The survey also finds that Houston area residents believe, more, that people can fall into poverty through no fault of their own, and there's growing consensus that government should step in. 79% of respondents said government should see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job, and 77% said there should be federal health insurance to cover the medical costs of all Americans. 69% believe most people who receive welfare payments are really in need of help.

This year’s survey also records a notable rise in support for providing more money to public schools. The percentage of those calling for more funding has jumped from 41% in 1995 to 59% in 2018 and 67% in this year’s survey. Moreover, 63% of area residents want to raise local taxes to pay for universal preschool for all children in Houston.

Study founder Dr. Stephen Klineberg, PhD., who is retiring after this year's report, believes these findings highlight the opportunity to provide more significant investments in the city’s future, and to find ways to translate that evolving understanding into sustained and effective action.

RELATED: Founder of Kinder Houston Area Survey looks back on four decades of work

Web-based interviews for the 41st annual Kinder Houston Area Survey were administered between Jan. 11 and Feb. 25. The survey was completed online by a representative sample of 1,950 adults living in Harris County.