By Emily Engel and Mark O’Dell
For the past four years, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago has distributed the Kansas City Federal Reserve’s LMI survey to Seventh District constituents engaged in community development. Recipients of the emailed survey are active in the fields of real estate development, finance, financial counseling, economic development, banking, consumer advocacy, small business development, philanthropy, law, higher education, agriculture, manufacturing, and human services. The survey asks the same questions each year in order to track trends affecting demand for services; jobs and affordable housing availability; financial well-being; and access to credit and capital, specifically for LMI communities and people.
With four years of survey results in hand, we can observe changes in the survey respondents’ outlook over time, which represent each state in the district, providing an opportunity to look at both the most recent responses and potential emerging trends in LMI communities over time.
Demand for Services
Survey respondents reported that demand for community development services continues to rise, with 54 percent saying that their organization faced a greater demand for its services in LMI communities than during the same period a year ago. This number is close to the 2017 results, when 51 percent reported a year-over-year increase in demand for services. In each of the past four years, more than half of survey respondents reported rising demand for services in the LMI communities they serve.
According to respondents, the availability of jobs for LMI individuals has improved consistently since 2015. In the latest version of the survey, 48 percent say that they believe the availability of jobs has increased in the past year, while only 11 percent believe there has been a decrease in job availability. The chart below reflects minor changes in these responses since 2017 (i.e., prior year’s) and a generally mixed trend over the past four years regarding job availability in LMI communities.
However, respondents indicated that affordable housing challenges remain for LMI communities. Respondents noted poor housing availability for many LMI individuals, according to our 2018 responses. In the 2018 survey, 36 percent of respondents say that the availability of affordable housing has decreased from the previous year, while just 18 percent say affordable housing availability has increased. This is an increase from the 2017 survey, when only 32 percent saw a decrease in affordable housing availability and 25 percent believed that the availability of affordable housing had increased. In comparison to the 2015, 2016, and 2018 surveys, 2017 was an outlier in terms of optimism about the availability of affordable housing; typically almost twice as many survey respondents saw declines in affordable housing availability, compared with those who believed that the affordable housing supply is improving for LMI individuals.
According to our survey respondents, residents of LMI communities face continued financial challenges. In 2018, responses are mixed, with 31 percent stating that the financial well-being of LMI individuals has declined since 2017 and 24 percent seeing an improvement from the previous year. The number of survey respondents reporting that LMI financial well-being declined reached a four-year low, although even fewer respondents report that LMI financial well-being is increasing. In 2017, 40 percent of respondents believed the financial well-being of LMI individuals was worse than in the previous year; in 2016 that figure was 41 percent and in 2015 it was 40 percent.
Access to credit
In 2018, for LMI individuals and communities, 22 percent of survey respondents say access to credit is better than it was a year ago, while only 4 percent say it is worse. While the vast majority say credit availability is about the same as it was a year ago, 2018 marks the first year since 2015 that more respondents suggest that access to credit is increasing rather than decreasing. In 2017, only 16 percent said access to credit was improving, while 18 percent thought it was decreasing, and in 2016, only 9 percent said credit access had improved.
Results from the Seventh District LMI survey confirm what many community development professionals and others suspect: that the recovery from the Great Recession, while evident in broad economic data, is not being felt consistently in LMI communities. Mixed results regarding job availability and ongoing challenges around housing affordability can undermine a general sense of financial well-being and potentially contribute to a slight uptick in demand for social services. A bright spot is the apparent increase of credit availability to these communities, as reported by survey respondents. However, that this turnaround did not appear until this year, may be indicative of the lag experienced by LMI communities during times of economic expansion. Results in 2019 and beyond will add further nuance to these findings. See below for further information about the survey and how to participate.
Is your organization interested in participating? Please read the FAQs below and reach out to Emily Engel in Community Development and Policy Studies at Emily.Engel@chi.frb.org.
Who can participate?
Representatives of organizations that directly provide services to LMI communities.
What does the survey ask?
Based on seven indicators, the point-and-click survey asks how the financial health of your LMI constituents and your organization compares with the past quarter and past year. You also will be asked what you expect to happen to these indicators in the following quarter.
How often will I be surveyed?
Twice a year, you will receive an email from Community Development and Policy Studies each survey period with a link to a secure survey webpage, currently administered through Qualtrics.
How long does the survey take to complete?
A few minutes.
What happens to my responses?
Aggregate results are sporadically published in Community Development and Policy Studies ProfitWise News and Views as well as our blogs. Additionally, the results have also been highlighted by the Kansas City Federal Reserve. This information offers service providers, policymakers and others a gauge to assess changes in the economic conditions of the LMI population over time.
Will my organization be identified?
All identifying information is kept confidential.