Focus on Allentown: Areas for Further Exploration

Written by: Hasshan Batts, Samantha Shaak, Scott Hoke, & Hannah Clark

Surveys can help us understand a lot about our community. From capturing community concerns about changes in our neighborhoods to identifying future opportunities, recent survey efforts by organizations across Allentown each tell us something about those who live, work, and play in Allentown are feeling about the community.

This series, entitled Focus on Allentown, highlights some of the key findings from three recent survey efforts in Allentown. The aim of the Focus on Allentown series is to identify common trends and identify collective actions we can take to enhance our city. The surveys included in the Focus on Allentown series are from Allentown Promise Neighborhood, Upside Allentown, and Allentown Vision 2030 during 2017 and 2018 (Hub Homepage). 

The previous stories shared cross-learnings on three areas that were common to all three surveys: quality of life, housing, and services and amenities. In this final data story, we are highlighting data from two subjects that were covered in one but not all three surveys. The subjects: 1) workforce characteristics and job accessibility (from Allentown Vision 2030 Survey) and 2) healthcare access and utilization (from the Allentown Promise Neighborhoods Survey) are both important to achieving comprehensive community insights and we propose that they warrant further exploration on a larger scale within Allentown in future surveying efforts.

Allentown Vision 2030 Survey asked about the industries of the workforce that respondents work in, and the supporting research for the Vision 2030 Plan looked closely at job accessibility and characteristics of the workforce as it relates to place of residence, monthly income, and race/ethnicity:

  • A majority of the survey respondents who work in manufacturing (76.6%) or warehousing and logistics (94.4%) live in Allentown.  In addition, 75% of respondents who work in health and human services live in Allentown.
  • The Allentown Vision 2030 Plan highlights that the majority of workers who live in Allentown are not employed within city limits (over 80%; 2017 Longitudinal Household-Employment Dynamics (LEHD) Data). Conversely, most jobs located in Allentown are filled by workers who live outside of the city limits (over 80%).
    • Furthermore, the majority of the workforce living in Allentown but employed outside city limits are generally younger (80% under 54 years of age), earn less than $40,000 per year (70%), and do not have a Bachelor’s degree (16% of workforce holds a Bachelor’s Degree or higher; 2017 LEHD Data).
  • The Allentown Vision 2030 Plan characterizes the city by four distinct geographic areas – East, South, West, and Center. Looking at the workforce by area of the city shows that Center Allentown’s workforce is younger (85% are below 55) and making lower monthly wages when compared with other areas of the city (77% earn less than $3333/month) and West Allentown’s workforce is older (26% over 55) and makes the highest monthly wages (45% earning $3333 or more/month; 2017 LEHD). The workforce living in East and South Allentown reflect the citywide statistics.

These data suggest an opportunity to further explore workforce characteristics and job accessibility in future survey efforts.  Understanding where Allentown residents are working (inside or outside of the city) and their industry, level of education, and wages can provide insight into the dynamics and intersection of jobs, housing, and transportation within Allentown.  The Allentown Vision 2030 Plan highlights the existence of income and educational disparities when looking at the workforce living in the city compared with the workforce filling jobs located in Allentown. The most current LEHD data is from 2017 due to the lag in publication of this data. In future survey efforts of the Allentown community, having structured questions that address workforce characteristics can provide more timely updates. Tracking workforce characteristics and job accessibility will also help to identify whether the job concerns are a workforce issue or a workplace issue.  These insights can support city strategies to enhance workforce development, provide training opportunities, and advocate for good paying jobs.

The Allentown Promise Neighborhood Survey asked residents about their access to and utilization of healthcare services.

  • 1 in 3 respondents felt they needed greater access to physical, dental, or mental health care.
  • 55% of respondents, or 363 people, reported using the emergency room as a primary source of health care
  • Respondents replied that on average, they experience 3.9 physically unhealthy days per month
  • In addition, nearly half of respondents say individuals in their household are enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare insurance .

This information suggests that despite the wide availability of healthcare services in the Lehigh Valley, community members may need assistance in navigating services or connecting to the right type of care for their healthcare needs.  However, we first need to know if these data hold true for residents across the city or if there is variation by neighborhoods or sections of the city. Health and healthcare utilization are two key components of the overall lived experience of Allentown residents and should be further explored in future surveying efforts.

Understanding the opportunities and challenges for the city’s workforce and access to healthcare are key quality of life indicators and should be factored into future survey efforts. Incorporating these topics into a survey effort will allow consistent tracking over time, thus providing a more comprehensive and complete understanding of Allentown. We recognize that these topics influence many other aspects of one’s life, from housing to transportation to childcare to physical and mental health. Furthermore, as we continue to face community challenges related to COVID-19, we need to be able to take into account how community health and access to employment opportunity are being reflected across Allentown’s neighborhoods. The pandemic has placed many jobs at risk, further limiting access to insurance, healthcare, and economic opportunity. In order to move forward with comprehensive strategies, we need to recognize root causes and ensure we are collecting the data to help us understand the path forward.

Author Affiliations:
Scott Hoke, Cedar Crest College
Hannah Clark, City of Allentown
Hasshan Batts, Allentown Promise Neighborhood
Samantha Shaak, Lehigh Valley Health Network Department of Community Health