Indicators of Community Strength

As one of the region’s largest funding organizations, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg is a leader in providing critical information to community leaders and organizations. We have a dedicated research team that studies local data to identify problems in our communities, researches solutions and works with partner organizations to develop solutions that actually move the needle.

We provide comprehensive analysis to better understand the areas where change is needed most. And we hold our agency partners accountable to ensure that our resources are being used in smart and impactful ways.

Community indicators are vital components of any effort to understand how our communities are progressing in particular areas. By zeroing in our Steps to Success framework and the data behind each Step, we are better able to both empower individuals and address systemic problems to provide everyone with a clear path to success.

Steps to Success: By the Numbers

United Way serves 11 localities in the Greater Richmond & Petersburg region. Learn about the population of the area we serve.

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View the total population of the region and break down the numbers by locality and year.

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View a map of our service area and compare population numbers across localities.

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View the racial and ethnic makeup of our service area and compare the data across multiple years and localities.

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View the age breakdown of the people in our region and compare the data across multiple years and localities.

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The challenges of living below poverty thresholds, combined with housing costs and other factors, create living situations that can become unmanageable for many households. People who live in low-income households often must choose between essential needs like housing, food and health care.

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Research shows that poverty can have long lasting effects on children’s health and development. Children living in families with income below the poverty thresholds are less likely to have adequate and healthy food, regular medical and dental care, or attend a quality preschool. This puts them at greater risk of not being ready for kindergarten, not reading at grade-level or not graduating high school on time.

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to conduct periodic counts of people experiencing homelessness. This data is compiled both locally and nationally to inform planning, programs and funding. Homeward, the planning and coordinating organization for homeless services in the Greater Richmond region, coordinates a point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness each January.

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Safety is a basic, essential need for us all. We need secure homes in safe communities to focus on other important aspects of our lives, like school, work and family. Unfortunately, many of our communities are regularly affected by violent crime. The violent crime rate is a critical indicator of our progress toward ensuring homes and communities are safe, healthy environments in which families and individuals can prosper.

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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as abuse, neglect and family dysfunction have been proven to inhibit healthy brain development in children and to have long-term and long-lasting ramifications for individuals and families—ramifications that impact the entire community.

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While many of us are fortunate enough not to worry about our next meal, too many of our friends and neighbors are not as lucky. Across the region, many residents are struggling to afford next week’s groceries and find themselves wondering how they are going to feed themselves and their families. This uncertainty creates stress and anxiety that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to focus on other things, like maintaining a job or preparing for school.

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Preterm and low-weight births increase a child’s risk of mortality and later health and developmental problems. Children who weigh below 5.5 pounds at birth are considered to have a low birth weight. Children born at moderately low birth weight (3.3 to 5.5 pounds) are more likely than normal birth weight children to have special healthcare needs, including increased need for medication, above-average use of health services and limitations on activity. Very low birth weight babies (less than 3.3 pounds) are at increased risk for chronic conditions such as respiratory problems, poor postnatal growth, cerebral palsy and infections. These conditions can increase the need for special education and services.

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Prenatal care received during the first trimester helps to promote healthy pregnancies. Care to pregnant women includes screening and management of a woman’s risk factors and health conditions, as well as education and counseling on healthy behaviors during and after pregnancy.

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A parent’s level of educational attainment is an important indicator of present and future family well-being. Maternal education has been directly associated with children’s cognitive development, school achievement and grade retention. Research suggests social disadvantages associated with low educational attainment contribute to increased negative outcomes.

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Teen pregnancy is associated with a range of adverse outcomes for teenage mothers and their children. These outcomes include lack of early and adequate prenatal care, an increased chance having a low-weight birth, increased chance of multiple births as a teen and higher risk of health problems for both mother and child. Teens who have a baby are also less likely to finish high school and are more likely to live below the poverty thresholds.

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PALS-K stands for Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening for Kindergarten. Fall PALS-K benchmarks help schools identify kindergarten students who are performing below developmentally appropriate levels on fundamental literacy skills and need additional instruction.

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Studies have shown that children without health insurance often receive less medical care and have worse health outcomes than children with insurance. If a young child is not receiving appropriate medical care and is not healthy, it is difficult—if not impossible—for that child to be prepared for kindergarten.

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Research has consistently shown that quality early childhood education has a major impact on a child’s overall development and increases their chances of success in the classroom and in life. While these benefits continue throughout a child’s education, they are particularly important during the transition to kindergarten.

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As with any health concern, developmental delays or disabilities in young children can be more effectively treated the earlier they’re detected. Recent estimates are that 15% of children ages 3-17 in the United States have a developmental disability.

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Standardized tests measure student learning and are used as a predictor of future performance. Scores can be used to compare school systems, to determine resource allocation and to track individual school improvements over time. Third grade is a pivotal point for reading.

In grades four and beyond, children encounter many new challenges and are expected to have basic reading skills. Reading below grade level is the overwhelming reason students are assigned to special education, given long-term remedial services or are not promoted to the next grade.

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Children missing more than 10% of the days in a school year (about 18 days or two absences per month) are much more likely to struggle to read at grade level by third grade. Chronic absenteeism creates and widens achievement gaps throughout elementary, middle and high school.

Students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent and the impact of absenteeism on their academic performance is twice as great as it is on their more affluent peers.

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While standardized test scores are only one piece of the middle school engagement puzzle, they are a critical piece nonetheless. Standardized test scores help us know whether a student is prepared to face the greater academic demands, new environments and new school cultures that await in high school.

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Children missing more than 10% of the days in a school year (about 18 days or two absences per month) are much more likely to struggle to stay engaged in middle school. Chronic absenteeism creates and widens achievement gaps throughout elementary, middle and high school.

Students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, and the impact of absenteeism on their academic performance is twice as great as it is on their more affluent peers.

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Regular school attendance is a strong predictor of academic success. Research has shown that students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to have academic problems, drop out of school and enter the juvenile justice system.

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Research finds that the presence of one or more caring, committed adults in a child’s life increases the likelihood that children and youth flourish and become productive adults themselves.

Unfortunately, no community-wide survey of youth social and emotional behaviors or supports is conducted in our region. United Way and our nonprofit partners in the out-of-school time space are committed to collecting more data about this critical indicator. We believe a regional survey of adolescent social and emotional well-being – including data on social relationships and supports – would inform policy, advocacy and interventions that helps adolescents stay on a path to a successful future. In the meantime, we encourage everyone in the community to help spread awareness and volunteer their time to this important issue.

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Increasingly, completion of high school or its equivalent is the minimum level of education sought by employers. Moreover, unemployment rates are lower and lifetime earnings are substantially higher for high school graduates than students who drop out.

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When compared to their peers who finish high school or college, youth who drop out of school often have lower salaries and are more likely to become unemployed. The high school dropout rate is based on a four-year study of a group of students who enter ninth grade for the first time together with the expectation that they will graduate in four years. It expresses the percentage of students in an expected graduating class who dropped out – and did not re-enroll – during that four-year period.

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Children missing more than 10% of the days in a school year (about 18 days or two absences per month) are much more likely to struggle to graduate high school on time. Chronic absenteeism creates and widens achievement gaps throughout elementary, middle and high school.

Students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent and the impact of absenteeism on their academic performance is twice as great as it is on their more affluent peers.

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Youth who are arrested as juveniles have higher rates of incarceration as an adult. National studies have shown that up to one-third of incarcerated youth return to incarceration within a few years after release. There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males.

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The labor market participation rate gives the fullest, clearest picture of the number of adults in our region who have jobs. Compared to the unemployment rate, which accounts only for adults seeking employment, the labor market participation rate factors in the total adult population.

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The path to a self-sustaining job begins with a high school diploma, but it does not end there. Adults with at least a high school diploma are more likely to have acquired the basic skills for earning a living and maintaining a household-sustaining income for themselves and their families.

Higher education, especially completion of a bachelor’s degree or higher, generally enhances a person’s employment prospects and increases his or her earning potential. In addition, children whose parents have post-secondary degrees are more likely to attain degrees themselves. Communities with higher educational attainment levels have been shown to be safer, healthier and more economically prosperous compared to areas with lower educational attainment levels.

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For many, completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an early and important step on the path to attending college and attaining a degree. Research shows that higher FAFSA completion rates lead to greater higher education enrollment rates and higher educational attainment rates.

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While many students take alternative paths to attaining a post-secondary credential, research shows that students are more likely to complete college if they enroll within 16 months of earning a high school diploma.

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While higher education degrees are a valuable and effective route to securing a self-sustaining job, they are not the only option. Many industries have developed industry-recognized credentials that provide skills and training to individuals seeking to advance their employment prospects. These opportunities exist in a range of fields, including energy, health care, construction, real estate, hospitality and more.

A potential measure for career-readiness for these individuals is the percent receiving an industry-recognized credential. This would provide a clearer picture of career-readiness for students entering the workforce. Because each industry has different standards, credentials and data systems, data on credential completion are not currently available, but state and local leaders have identified the need for this information and are working to develop methods to collect, analyze and distribute.

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A job loss, health crisis or other unanticipated expense can threaten the financial stability of a household. The asset poverty rate measures the percentage of households without sufficient net worth to provide for basic needs and live above the poverty level for three months in the absence of income. In many ways, asset poverty is more instructive and important than the traditional poverty rate. This is because it factors in households who are just one job loss or health issue away from serious financial crisis.

The threshold used to determine the asset poverty rate varies by family size. A family of four with net worth less than $6,150 in 2017 is asset poor.

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According to the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution, the average full-time worker without a bank account may spend $40,000 in fees over the course of his or her lifetime just to cash paychecks. Households without an account do not have a safe place to store their money, leaving them open to risks of loss from theft or natural disaster.

When combined with the rate of underbanked households (households that have a bank account but have used alternative financial services—such as payday loans—in the past year), this measure paints a broad picture of households in our region that are financially under-served.

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International, national and local economic trends influence layoffs, plant closings and shifts in industries that impact many households on a local level. The percent of individuals experiencing unemployment tells us about the general economic stability of our community.

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Because poverty thresholds are only about 30% of the region’s median income, a more comprehensive picture of economic vulnerability includes individuals in households with incomes below 200% of poverty thresholds (or twice the poverty thresholds).

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Because poverty thresholds are only about 30% of the region’s median income, a more comprehensive picture of economic vulnerability includes individuals in households with incomes below 200% of poverty thresholds (or twice the poverty thresholds). Children living in low income households are at greater risk of not being ready for kindergarten, reading on grade level or graduating high school on time.

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If housing costs exceed 30% of the household income, then these costs are likely to negatively impact the household’s ability to meet other basic needs such as food, healthcare and childcare.

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Older adults who live below poverty thresholds face limited choices and limited resources that may negatively impact their quality of life. They are at risk of having inadequate financial resources to ensure a quality diet, housing, health care and other needs. The challenges of living below poverty thresholds create living situations that can become unmanageable for many older adults.

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Because poverty thresholds are only about 30% of the region’s median income, a more comprehensive picture of economic vulnerability of older adults includes individuals in households with incomes below 200% of poverty thresholds (or twice the poverty thresholds).

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Premature age-adjusted mortality measures the number of deaths among residents under the age of 75 per 100,000 population. It is a general measure of population health. Understanding premature mortality rates across localities and investigating the underlying causes of high rates of premature death can provide insight into the strategies and interventions needed to improve the health of people in our community.

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According to the County Health Rankings, this measure is self-reported from adults who answered the question “In general, would you say that your health is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?” Research shows that as we age, the risk of experiencing adverse health outcomes increases.

We know that the population of older adults in our community is growing. Understanding adults in poor or fair health will help ensure that services and resources are available to help address the health needs of adults in our region and promote healthy aging.

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Studies have shown that people without insurance often receive less medical care and have worse health outcomes than people with insurance. An unexpected health problem can also become a major financial burden for people without insurance as well as people who are under-insured. Surveys of bankruptcy filers have found that health expenses are the most common contributing factor in financial problems.

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Household structure can impact a person’s well-being. Older adults who live alone can be at risk for social isolation and reduced quality of life if there are co-existing conditions such as poverty, lack of transportation, illness, disease or disability. Recent research has focused on the connection between social isolation and poor health. Studies have found that social isolation negatively impacts a person’s health equal in consequence to smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. People who are socially isolated may have weaker immune systems and recover more slowly from illness than people with strong social connections. People who are socially isolated are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

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