How Jobs Make Us Feel Safer—Even in the Face of Crime

Strong Towns is partnering with a new comprehensive mapping tool called mySidewalk, to share some articles on our site and theirs utilizing the tool. This week, we're pleased to publish a guest article by Stephen Hardy, CEO of mySidewalk as part of our article exchange.

It might be assumed that how safe city residents feel is directly correlated with that city’s crime rate. The truth, however, is much more nuanced—and in some cases, the crime rate isn’t a factor at all.

Residents tend to overestimate or underestimate crime risk based on other environmental factors— and their feelings of safety do not always line up with actual crime rates. Feelings of safety can be shaped by other less obvious factors, such as income levels, which could make a place appear to be more polished—giving the impression that it is safer than it actually is. That’s why it’s important to evaluate all possible factors at play when trying to determine the reasons that residents feel safe or unsafe.

For example, when looking at citizen satisfaction survey data in Kansas City, Missouri, the data shows that feelings of safety are not correlated with crime rates, but rather with employment. Interestingly, the same holds true for the city of Austin, Texas: the employment rate appears to play a more significant role in how safe and secure residents feel.  

Below is a map displaying feelings of safety in Kansas City. We can see in the top right corner that feelings of safety have a moderate correlation with the employment rate, meaning that the feeling of safety increases as employment increases. You can use your mouse to interact with the map for more information.

And here we have a map of Kansas City showing feelings of safety alongside the crime rate. We can see in the top right corner the feelings of safety are not correlated with crime.

The feelings-of-safety variable in the maps above comes from local citizen satisfaction survey data, which is invaluable when evaluating the factors that could influence how people feel about the places in which they live. Because this localized data is highly useful to cities nationwide, ETC Institute is working with mySidewalk, a data visualization and sharing tool, to easily display and share citizen satisfaction survey information—including feelings of safety among city residents.  

Though it’s not typical for citizens’ sense of safety to correlate with employment rather than the level of crime in the area, the finding shouldn’t be all too surprising. We know that job security can positively affect both mental and physical soundness, just as job insecurity can negatively affect one’s mental and physical health—so it would make sense that our employment status can subconsciously make us feel either more vulnerable or more secure. If either of these cities (Kansas City or Austin) were experiencing plummeting feelings of safety, city officials who are in tune with their city’s citizen satisfaction data would know that increasing law enforcement might not be the best way to make people feel safer, but that city dollars might be better spent on employment programs or skill attainment workshops. These details are vital when it comes to knowing how to get the most out of limited public funds.

ETC’s citizen satisfaction survey data, like that discussed above, can be used in a breadth of ways—though it is exceptionally useful when trying to understand the needs and wants of residents, or even when trying to decide where to implement improvement projects.


"Citizen satisfaction survey data is extremely valuable to the communities who use it,” said Andrew Kolcz, vice president of the systems team at ETC Institute. “For example, the data created from citizen input can be used to help allocate resources where they will have the most impact."

This data can also be used to gauge whether residents feel their city is a good place to raise children, how well they feel the roads are maintained, and whether they view the city as a good place to live and work, among other things. ETC citizen satisfaction survey data can also be combined with the 6 million other datasets available in mySidewalk to find other types of correlations and insights. For example, we can combine datasets to discover that citizens’ opinion on the value they receive for their tax dollars is correlated with employment rates and inversely correlated with both animal complaints and mean commute time. These types of insights can help planners and economic development professionals make better, more confident decisions that are specifically catered to the citizens living in their communities.  

Does your city use citizen satisfaction survey data? Has it revealed any unique insights about your city? Let us know in the comments below!

For more information on how local citizen satisfaction data interacts with national data, sign up for a complimentary webinar here.

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About ETC Institute

ETC Institute is a market research firm that specializes in the design and administration of market research for governmental organizations. Major areas of emphasis include citizen satisfaction, parks and recreation, community planning, business, transportation, employee, and voter opinion surveys. They also specialize in administering focus groups and stakeholder interviews. 

About mySidewalk

mySidewalk is a data tool for people who want to understand places. With the ability to instantly answer thousands of community questions, mySidewalk makes it easy for anyone to use data to make better, more confident decisions. To learn more, visit, or request a free consultation here