By Kristine Jean
In a five-year span, about 2,000 residents of Perth and Huron counties left the region, most of them young adults, West Perth council was told during a quality of life report last month.
Tracy Birtch and Terri Sparling of the Social Research and Planning Council, a division of the United Way Perth-Huron, provided council with a wide ranging series of facts, specifically the close-knit community we possess, the large percentage of seniors in our midst and the incredible amount of volunteer hours put in for a quality of life report.
“The quality of life refers to the general well being of individuals and of society in terms of health, wellness and happiness, not just in terms of economic growth or development,” said Birtch.
“We looked at things such as education, work environments, living standards, time use, leisure –all kinds of components that came together to determine what our quality of life is like,” she added, noting that a rural environment can often help shape a resident’s experience and well-being in different ways.
“There’s a closer-knit community feel where a neighbour is more likely to lend a hand and be involved but sometimes there can be isolation and there can be transportation barriers,” she continued. “All of these factors come into play to determine a person’s quality of life.”
Birtch highlighted some of the findings in the report and some general characteristics of the population in the area including a higher ratio of married couples in Perth-Huron, a larger percentage of senior residents, and a fewer number of adult children that are living at home.
“According to research conducted, Perth and Huron collectively lost about 2,000 residents between 2006 -2011, and a large percentage of those were young adults between the ages of 18 and 24,” said Birtch. “There was also a smaller number of people coming back between 45-65 years of age.”
In addition to a community profile overview, other topics addressed in the report detailed demographics, the environment, health, education, leisure and culture, living standards and overall community vitality.
“Volunteerism also plays a significant role in our quality of life and it strengthens our community,” said Birtch. “In Perth County alone volunteers gave more than five million hours of their time per year, which is equal to roughly 2,500 full-time jobs, so volunteers are really filling in the gap and helping our community be a strong, vital place.”
Education and some health findings from the report presented concerns, particularly, the increasing number of people who are obese or overweight.
“Two-thirds of the population are saying they’re in very good health and we have higher than average access to regular medical doctors, but something such as obesity would be an area where there could be some targeted prevention and intervention,” said Sparling.
Education attainment levels in Perth and Huron are below the provincial average, with approximately a quarter of the current residents 15 years and older, not yet completing high school as compared to 19 per cent in Ontario, she added. She also pointed out that only 10 per cent of Perth and 11 per cent of Huron residents have a university degree or diploma and the provincial average is 23 per cent.
Perth and Huron counties also fell below provincial averages in annual income for full-time workers. Across Ontario the average annual income was $61,495 whereas in Perth County it was $48,443 and Huron $47,487. The average weekly cost of groceries to feed a family of four in Perth, in 2013 was $191.75 and in Huron in 2013, it was $198,89.
After the presentation, council was invited to ask questions.
Deputy Mayor Doug Eidt pointed out that the some of figures presented left out important information.
“You need to include in there, the people that want to work part-time,” he said. “I have 10 employees – I have one full-time employee and nine part-time employees. None of my employees want full-time work. A lot of them choose to work part-time - that is one category that they have to put in.”
Coun. Annamarie Murray asked whether or not the quality of life study was completed at the provincial level in addition to the local level, and how were they able to compare those figures.
Birtch noted that in different areas it was, and pointed to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, a national initiative that looks at the quality of life in different domains.
“We based our report on the methodology that they were looking at,” said Birtch. “We got all of our statistics from Statistics Canada, all of the provincial and federal statistics sources available, and also through local research that was available. What we were able to compare provincially, we did.”
The Quality of Life report, and all past research reports conducted by the Social Research and Planning Council, can be found online at www.socialresearchandplanning.ca.