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Poll: Rural Nebraskans positive, concerned about communities

Saturday, August 18, 2007

LINCOLN -- Rural Nebraskans continue to feel generally positive about their communities, even as they recognize some of the shortcomings of rural life, according to the 2007 Nebraska Rural Poll.?

Those shortcomings -- and the fact that rural populations are aging, and younger people are less tied to small-town life -- create some concern about rural Nebraska's future, say University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers who conducted the 12th annual poll.?As in past years, the poll asked respondents a series of questions about their feelings toward their communities; their satisfaction with services; and plans to move from their communities in the next year.

Surveys were mailed in March to about 6,400 randomly selected households in Nebraska's 84 rural counties. Results are based on 2,680 responses.?

Generally, responses to these quality of life questions continue recent trends reflecting growing satisfaction among rural Nebraskans:?

* Forty-four percent of respondents said they're better off than they were five years ago, compared with 39 percent a year ago and a 12-year low of 32 percent in 2003. Only 15 percent said they're worse off; that's down from 19 percent in 2006 and a high of 28 percent in 2003.?

* Forty-one percent expect to be better off 10 years from now, while 18 percent expect to be worse off -- identical to last year's findings.?

* Thirty-three percent said they'd seen positive change in their communities, the same as last year; that's up from a low of 23 percent in 2003. Twenty-two percent said their community had changed for the worse, the same percentage as last year, while 45 percent said they saw no change. ?

* Most rural Nebraskans rated their community favorably on its social dimensions -- 72 percent citing friendliness, 59 percent trusting and 65 percent supportive, for example.?

* Most expressed positive sentiments about their community. About two-thirds agreed with the statement "My community is very special to me," and 62 percent agreed with the statement "I feel I can really be myself in my community."?

A closer look at the Rural Poll's findings offers reasons for both optimism and concern about the future, researchers said.

For example, rural Nebraskans are generally satisfied with basic community services and amenities, with at least 70 percent feeling positive about fire protection, parks and recreation, library services and religious organizations.?

However, at least one-third of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with entertainment, shopping, restaurants, streets and roads, arts/cultural activities and local government in their community.

Moreover, in most of the categories -- even those services and amenities with generally high marks -- the level of satisfaction has dropped over the last 10 years.

In some key areas, that decrease has been precipitious: Only 23 percent of respondents are satisfied with mental health services, down from 34 percent in 1997, and only 31 percent are satisfied with day care services, down from 51 percent 10 years ago.?

Younger respondents were more likely to be dissatisfied with their community's services. For example, 60 percent of respondents 19-39 years old were dissatisfied with entertainment options, while only 28 percent of people over 65 were.?"Some of those individual indicators aren't very positive," said Bruce Johnson, an agricultural economist who's part of the Rural Poll team. "That doesn't bode well for retaining as well as attracting younger individuals and families. As rural areas look to adapt ... you'd better give a good look at day care and things like that.?"It's an evolving rural population, and certain needs and amenities of rural areas are going to take on increasing importance," Johnson added.?This year's Rural Poll made a special attempt to sample more Latinos, a population that's increased significantly in some parts of the state. David Peters, a rural sociologist on the Rural Poll team, said the poll found Latinos are less positive than non-Latinos about many aspects of rural life. For example, they're less likely to view their community as trusting, more likely to believe people are powerless to control their own lives and more likely to be dissatisfied with their community's retail shopping, restaurants and public transportation.?On the other hand, Peters pointed out, Latinos clearly are making strides. Seventy percent of Latinos expect to be better off in 10 years than now; that compares with 38 percent of non-Latinos. Also, 46 percent of Latinos believe their community has changed for the better in the last year, compared with 31 percent of non-Latinos. That may be explained, in part, by definition of community; many Latinos may think of their own cultural surroundings as community, rather than the larger region.?Also, more Latinos than non-Latinos expect to be on the move in the next year; 16 percent plan to leave their community, compared with only 4 percent of non-Latinos. Of those planning to move, 34 percent expect to go to Lincoln or Omaha and 40 percent expect to leave Nebraska.?"We have a Latino population that is pretty positive about their communities, pretty positive about their futures," said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the university's Rural Initiative. ?"It's the basic path of assimilation," Peters added.?The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans' perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year's response rate was about 40 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent. Complete results are available online at http://cari.unl.edu/ruralpoll/.?The university's Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Rural Initiative and Public Policy Center with funding from the Partnership for Rural Nebraska and UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.


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