Individual and Community Well-Being: Perceptions of Change in Rural Nebraska
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AbstractNebraska’s economy has continued to struggle during the past year. In addition, many rural communities are experiencing population decline. How have these changes affected rural Nebraskans? How do rural Nebraskans perceive their quality of life? Do their perceptions differ by community size, the region in which they live, or their occupation? How do they feel about their community? Are they planning to move from their community in the next year? This report details 3,087 responses to the 2003 Nebraska Rural Poll, the eighth annual effort to understand rural Nebraskans’ perceptions. Respondents were asked a series of questions regarding their individual well-being as well as their community. Trends for these questions are examined by comparing data from the seven previous polls to this year’s results. For all questions, comparisons are made among different respondent subgroups, i.e., comparisons by age, occupation, region, etc. Based on these analyses, some key findings emerged: • Rural Nebraskans are more negative about their current situation than they were last year. This year, only 27 percent believe they are better off then they were five years ago, compared to 37 percent in 2002. Also, the percent saying they are worse off then they were five years ago increased from 21 percent to 30 percent. The proportion saying they remained about the same was unchanged at 43 percent. • When looking to the future, rural Nebraskans are not as positive as they were last year. The proportion believing they will be better off ten years from now decreased from 36 percent to 31 percent. Conversely, the proportion that think they will be worse off increased from 18 percent to 26 percent. The percent saying they will be about the same decreased from 46 percent to 43 percent. • Rural Nebraskans are slightly more likely to feel powerless as compared to last year. This year, 33 percent strongly agree or agree with the statement that people are powerless to control their lives. Last year, 30 percent agreed with the statement. • Farmers and ranchers are less optimistic about their current situation than persons with different occupations. Only 19 percent of the farmers and ranchers think they are better off compared to five years ago. In comparison, 44 percent of the persons with professional occupations say they are better off. • Persons with lower educational levels are more likely than persons with more education to believe that people are powerless to control their own lives. Fifty-six percent of the persons without a high school diploma agree that people are powerless to control their own lives. However, only 18 percent of the persons with a four-year college degree share this opinion. • Rural Nebraskans report being most satisfied with their family, their religion/spirituality and friends. They are most dissatisfied with their financial security during retirement, their current income level and their job opportunities. • Farmers and ranchers are more likely than persons with different occupations to report being dissatisfied with their current income level. Fifty-nine percent of the farmers and ranchers are dissatisfied with their current income level, compared to only 30 percent of the persons with professional occupations. • Rural Nebraskans are slightly more negative about the change in their communities than last year. This year, only 22 percent believe their community has changed for the better, compared to 24 percent last year. And, in 2003, 25 percent think their community has changed for the worse, compared to only 22 percent last year. • Rural Nebraskans living in or near the largest communities are more likely than the persons living in or near the smaller communities to say their community has changed for the better. Twenty-eight percent of the persons living in or near communities with populations of 10,000 or more say their community has changed for the better. Only 12 percent of the persons living in or near communities with less than 500 people share this opinion. • The community services and amenities that rural Nebraskans are most dissatisfied with include: entertainment, retail shopping and restaurants. They are most satisfied with parks and recreation, library services, basic medical care services, education (K - 12), and highways and bridges. • Smaller community residents are more likely than residents of larger communities to be dissatisfied with their law enforcement. Thirty-six percent of the residents living in or near communities with less than 500 people express dissatisfaction with their community’s law enforcement. Only 20 percent of the persons living in or near communities with populations of 5,000 or more are dissatisfied with their law enforcement. • Rural Nebraskans who are divorced or separated are more likely than other marital groups to report dissatisfaction with their community’s housing. Thirty-four percent of these respondents are dissatisfied with the housing in their community, compared to only 14 percent of the widowed respondents. • Younger persons are more likely than older persons to be planning to move from their community next year. Eighteen percent of the persons between the ages of 19 and 29 are planning to move next year, compared to only two percent of the persons age 65 and older. An additional 15 percent of the younger persons are uncertain if they plan to move. • The expected movers from the Panhandle are more likely than the expected movers from other regions to plan to leave the state. Seventy-seven percent of the Panhandle residents who are planning to move from their community next year say they plan to move some place other than Nebraska. Only 36 percent of the expected movers in both the South Central and Northeast regions plan on leaving the state.