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Assessing the community's needs

Krystle Wagner • Oct 25, 2018 at 10:00 AM

HUDSONVILLE — While Ottawa County ranks at the top for healthiest communities in Michigan, there’s room for improvement in all aspects of life, according to a new assessment.

On Wednesday, Greater Ottawa County United Way officials released the 2018 Community Assessment. Every three years, the assessment is published to provide an in-depth look at the health and human services issues facing Ottawa County residents.

The 2018 report is the fourth reiteration of the assessment, which looks at education, financial stability, health and basic needs.

“We want to mobilize the community around data-driven decision-making,” said Patrick Moran, president of the Greater Ottawa County United Way.

The process started one year ago, said Liz DeLaLuz, vice president of community impact for the local United Way. A steering committee oversaw the process, and the United Way worked with VIP Research and Evaluation. Key community stakeholders were interviewed and an in-house survey was conducted.

During a release event at The Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville, Moran highlighted some of the data in the new assessment.

The 2018 assessment also looked at adverse childhood experiences (A.C.E.S), which are traumatic or stressful events. In Ottawa County, 53 percent of adults have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, and 14 percent of adults have experienced more than one.

Moran said that if A.C.E.S. were stopped, lives and metrics would be improved.

According to the report, there are 17,782 children age 5 or younger in Ottawa County and 13,392 children's parents are in the workforce. There are 10,278 licensed child care openings countywide, and the number of children is growing faster than open day care spots, Moran said.

“Less than half of our kids attend a licensed preschool or child care,” he said.

Based on the household survey, 48.3 percent of respondents said they were working and satisfied with their job, which is up from 46.5 percent in 2015. Ten percent reported they were working but want a better job.

Moran said the more education individuals have — whether it’s a certificate or a degree — the more likely they are to earn more money over time.

When it comes to residents who fall within the asset-limited income-constrained employed (A.L.I.C.E.) threshold, few Michigan counties have improved in recent years, Moran said. In Ottawa County in 2015, 64 percent of residents lived above the A.L.I.C.E threshold, while 28 percent were within the threshold, and 8 percent were in poverty. In 2017, 65 percent were above the A.L.I.C.E. threshold while 26 percent were within the threshold and 9 percent were in poverty.

Moran said residents who were on the bubble and barely living above the A.L.I.C.E. threshold slipped into it. He also noted that people on the edge experience an increase in housing prices while wages remained relatively flat.

According to the report, 36 percent of county households struggle to make ends meet. The median household income in the county is $61,000.

Although Ottawa County is the healthiest in the state, there's room for improvement. About 63.2 percent of residents are overweight or obese, and that number continues to move in a negative direction.

Twelve percent of residents are in fair or poor health, and that has worsened since 2011. One in four residents report not having any leisure activity or physical activity.

Mental health also continues to be a prevalent issue, Moran said.

The most calls coming into the 211 information line last year were related to housing, followed by information services, utility assistance, income support and food.

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