Most rural Nebraskans don't think things are going to the dogs, but there is good reason, according to the 2012 Nebraska Rural Poll conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In fact, more of them say they've seen positive changes in their communities at any time since 1997, 34 percent, the highest since 1997's 37 percent. As recently as 2009, only 23 percent said their community had changed for the better.
Members of the Rural Poll team credit much of that optimism to the strong agricultural economy, which has bucked nationwide economic trends. But, with places like Southwest Nebraska suffering a drought, they say next year's poll might not be so bright.
But they also noticed something we've observed to be true: What goes around, comes around. People who contribute to their community usually find they receive as much or more in return.
For the first time since 2002, the poll asked questions about involvement in respondent's communities.
It found that 79 percent have belonged to a local group or organization, 77 percent have donated money to a local organization, charity or cause other than a church; 74 percent have donated to a local church, and 71 percent volunteered time to a local organization.
Plus, 35 percent said they had held a leadership role in a local group in the past year, and 11 percent have held a public office or served on a government board in the past year.
Unfortunately, those numbers were down somewhat since 2002, and the poll found that those with incomes above $60,000 and those in agriculture or management/professional and education are likelier than other income and employment groups to get involved in and lead organizations. And, not surprisingly, 87 percent of those making $60,000 or more reported donating to local groups or causes, compared to 58 percent of those making less than $20,000.
The latest poll reinforces our conviction that good times or bad, and especially in bad times, most of us and our rural neighbors are ready and willing to pitch in to help those in need and do what we can to make things better for our entire community.