Monday, May 27, 2024

A home on Brattle Street in West Cambridge. Five percent of Cambridge households account for 23 percent of the city’s total household earnings. (Photo: Marc Levy)

To City Manager Louis A. DePasquale, the conclusion was clear: The city’s 2020 resident satisfaction survey presented to city councillors Monday shows that “in these difficult times, people are feeling good about Cambridge.” Some city councillors, though, wanted to know more about which people.

“I noticed that people are more satisfied, but our city is becoming wealthier, too,” councillor Dennis Carlone said. “The less wealthy population is leaving. I would imagine part of that increase is who the new residents are.” And vice mayor Alanna Mallon wanted “a breakdown” of answers to the survey questions “by neighborhood and income groups.”

“It seems like from the report demographically, the highest excellent performance ratings [on] the overall performance of city government changes [depending on] what neighborhood you live in. In Cambridgeport, North and West Cambridge, over 56 [years old], they are likely to say there’s an excellent performance rating,” Mallon said.

The telephone portion of the survey polled 400 residents chosen at random and was designed to represent the population, while an online option included 2,551 people who were not randomized. An appendix to the report showed that telephone and online polls included more white residents and fewer Hispanic, black and Asian residents than the city’s population as reported by the most recent Census figures.

Income levels of survey respondents who answered the income question were clustered at the top end, with more than 45 percent saying they earn more than $100,000 and only 10 percent (6 percent of online respondents) reporting incomes of $35,000 or less. The top levels conform approximately to census figures, but 20 percent of Cambridge households earn less than $29,840, according to the U.S. Census.

The report identified the demographic connections listed by Mallon but no more; Ernest Paicopolos, chief executive of Polity Research Consultants, the Andover company that performed the poll, said he can provide councillors with a demographic breakdown of the answers to every question as Mallon requested.

Homes in The Port neighborhood. The bottom fifth of Cambridge residents in terms of earnings account for just 2 percent of total household income in the city. (Photo: Marc Levy)

That’s likely to come at a roundtable meeting on the survey that Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui promised to schedule. Councillors could also discuss in more detail the findings showing that satisfaction has dropped in certain areas. Councillor E. Denise Simmons identified declines in “senior satisfaction” and in diverse populations feeling welcome in Cambridge. “We do laud ourselves at trying to be the best city when it comes around race issues and bias issues, but clearly we are doing a crap job of it,” she said.

Demographics show sharp divisions in Cambridge. Figures presented by Community Development Department demographer Cliff Cook at a Human Rights Commission meeting in October showed tremendous disparity in income in Cambridge.

Cook told the commission that Cambridge is more unequal, income-wise, than every state but New York, and every Massachusetts city except Boston as shown by the city’s Gini index, which measures how closely a locality’s income distribution conforms to a normal curve.

Recent census data show that the top-earning 5 percent of Cambridge households account for 23 percent of total household earnings in the city, and the top fifth of households take home more than half the household income, according to Cook’s presentation. On the other end of the spectrum, the bottom fifth earn just 2 percent of total household income.

Demographics can make a difference in what concerns residents prioritize, according to another city report. The Cambridge Public Health Department’s 2020 Community Health Assessment surveyed residents in 2019, and also held “focus groups” to hear from specific populations. The survey, in seven languages online and two more on paper, wasn’t randomized and the 1,129 respondents didn’t represent the population in areas such as gender and race, the report said; women were overrepresented while nonwhite residents were underrepresented.

Still, the report did break down responses by race, and it showed sharp differences in concerns and priorities. For example, 42.6 percent of nonwhite and Hispanic residents said they were moderately or highly concerned about lack of affordable child care, compared with 21.1 percent of white residents. The split on lack of educational opportunities was 33.6 percent of people of color, 13 percent of white residents. Those differences were statistically significant, meaning it was likely they didn’t occur by chance, the report said.

On harassment and discrimination, 58.6 percent of nonwhite and Hispanic residents were moderately or highly concerned, while 27 percent of white residents were.

When it came to some environmental issues, white residents were more likely than people of color to be highly or moderately concerned about the health impacts of climate change (74.6 percent vs. 60.3 percent). White residents also were more likely than nonwhite residents to be concerned about pedestrian and bicycle safety, while nonwhite and Hispanic residents worried more than white residents about elder abuse, violence at home and safety at work.