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HomeNewsArchivesV.I. POLLS LOOK AT PUBLIC POLICY VIEWS, POVERTY

V.I. POLLS LOOK AT PUBLIC POLICY VIEWS, POVERTY

June 4, 2002 – One out of three Virgin Islanders believes the government is actually broke, more than half reject the idea of privatizing the Water and Power Authority, and 13 percent believe the Senate is doing a good job of controlling government spending, according to the findings of a poll released Tuesday by the University of the Virgin Islands.
Researchers at UVI's Eastern Caribbean Center polled about 2,000 people last year to compile the 2001 U.S. Virgin Islands Community Survey. Done at the request of the Office of Management and Budget, the survey had people rate various government agencies and respond on a wide range of local issues, ranging from the selling of WAPA to efforts to cut the government payroll.
The study is meant to give policymakers an objective view of how the residents of the territory see the issues, Frank Mills, the center director, said. "The primary goal is to get an understanding of what people think about the government and about a number of issues," he said Tuesday at a press conference in which he released the data, commenting, "This type of information is good for public policy."
Some elected officials may not be thrilled with many of the poll findings Such as:
– 16 percent of the respondents thought the executive branch of government under Gov. Charles W. Turnbull is doing an "excellent" or "good" job of controlling government spending.
– About 15 percent gave the executive branch a positive rating for its actions to grow the economy.
– About 13 percent said they thought the 24th Legislature was doing an "excellent" or "good" job of controlling government spending.
– About 86 percent said the Legislature was doing a "fair" or "poor" job of growing the economy.
Despite what people have been told repeatedly by government officials, two out of three — or 67 percent — don't believe the government is broke. More than 70 percent believe the government has extra money available. About 9 out of 10 respondents didn't want to see taxes raised to generate more revenue.
The most popular idea for reducing government spending was to cut back on government vehicles. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said education should be the government's top priority. Addressing crime was a distant second at about 15 percent, with developing new businesses coming in third at about 9 percent.
About 14 percent of the respondents on St. Croix and St. Thomas said they had been burglarized at least once in the last three years; the number was 7 percent on St. John. Study data put the total value of goods burglarized in the last three years at $10.4 million.
Of the government agencies, the Division of Paternity and Child Support fared the worst in the poll, with 48 percent of respondents giving the division a rating of "poor." The Human Services Department came out on top, with 54 percent of the respondents rating it either "good" or "excellent."
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, Mills said.
He hopes to be able to do similar surveys to help gauge public opinion on key issues.
New demographic data on poverty
Along with the survey data, the Eastern Caribbean Center also released new demographic statistics taken from a survey conducted last year. The study shows that more than one in four people in the territory lives below the federal poverty level, a rate far higher than in the poorest of the 50 states. The figures show that about 27 percent of the 109,000 people in the territory live in poverty. The poverty rate is about 31 percent on St. Croix, 23 percent on St. Thomas and 11 percent on St. John.
About 12 percent of people in the United States live below the federal poverty level, which is calculated at income of $21,065 for a family of five, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The highest rates are 19 percent for New Mexico and nearly that high for Louisiana and the District of Columbia, the national figures show.
Unemployment in the territory is about 6.5 percent, but many of the positions pay such low wages that people often work evening and weekend jobs in addition to their full-time job, said Dee Baecher-Brown, executive director of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, which has studied poverty among children.
The struggle to make ends meet can contribute to other social problems such as crime and poor performance in school, she said. "We hear from teachers that many, many children come to class hungry, and that their best meal of the day is what they get at school," she said. "We often don't recognize poverty in the streets or at the grocery store because, with their dignity, people make an effort not to look poor. But the poverty is there."
The Eastern Caribbean Center, which compiled the 2000 Census data for the territory, released the poverty figures Tuesday as part of its 2001 Population and Housing Profile. The study sampled about 2,000 people in the territory last year and has a margin of error of about 5 percent, Mills said.
The study also covered basic demographics. About 78 percent of the population is black, 10 percent is white and 16 percent is Hispanic of any race. More than one-third of the population was born in foreign nations. About 42 percent of the adult population in the territory has not completed high school.
The percentage of people found to live in poverty would be even higher if the researchers had factored in the high cost of living in the Virgin Islands, as analysts for the U.S. Census do for Alaska and Hawaii, said Rameshwar Srivastava, chief statistician at the Eastern Caribbean Center. The poverty threshold is raised by 25 percent in Alaska and Hawaii to adjust for the higher cost of living. This was not done in analyzing the Virgin Islands statistics, he said, because federal funding in the territory does not take into account the higher cost of living.

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