Poll: Rural Nebraskans more positive than in 2009

jbrehm2, November 3, 2010 | View original publication

Poll: Rural Nebraskans more positive than in 2009

Rural Nebraskans are much more positive about their lives than they were just a year ago, according to the Nebraska Rural Poll. It may be a sign that uncertainty over the looming recession in 2009 has given way to a realization that the region's economy didn't dip as low as some feared it would, say poll organizers.

The 14-page survey, conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was sent to 6,500 households in 84 non-metropolitan counties last March and April. Results are based on 2,797 responses.

Fifty percent of poll respondents said they believed they were better off this year than they were five years ago. That's up from 43 percent a year ago and is second only to the 53 percent who answered similarly in 2008. The poll also reflected a steep drop in the percentage of rural Nebraskans who believe they are worse off than they were five years ago — from 28 percent last year, tying for the all-time high, to 21 percent in 2010.

Poll organizers said the improvement in rural Nebraskans' mood from 2009 to 2010 might reflect perceptions of the economic outlook. In spring 2009, there was "all this sky-is-falling talk" about the recession, said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Initiative.

A year later, media reports are focused on an economic turnaround, and many rural Nebraskans may feel the worst hasn't been so bad in this part of the country, poll organizers said.

"Uncertainty is the thing that really breeds unhappiness," Cantrell said. On the other hand, once people understand what they have to deal with, they tend to come to terms with it and don't worry as much.

Nebraska has fared better in this recession than many states. "A lot of satisfaction is a relative thing," said Bruce Johnson, UNL agricultural economist.

The poll also found that 42 percent of respondents said they expected to be better off in 10 years than they are today, while 23 percent said they expected to be worse off. Those numbers have remained fairly steady from year to year.

Cantrell, Johnson and Brad Lubben, UNL public policy specialist, noted that the 2010 poll drives home a point that previous polls have made, too: No matter what the economic outlook is, rural Nebraskans who seek higher education are more satisfied with their lives, more confident about the future and less likely to feel powerless than those who do not go to college.

Cantrell refers to this as the poll's "annual stay-in-school message."

This year, for example, 47 percent of respondents with a high school diploma or less education agreed that people are powerless to control their own lives. Only 22 percent of those with a four-year college degree shared that opinion. Fifty-three percent of respondents with at least a four-year degree said they believed they'd be better off 10 years from now than they are today, while only 26 percent of respondents with less than a high school education shared this optimism.

"If you don't pursue education, the odds are very good you will be unhappy," Cantrell said. "It's true when times are good, it's true when times are bad."

Johnson said investing in education usually helps people to "have more resiliency. You may fall but you're more likely to land on your feet."

Other findings of the 2010 Nebraska Rural Poll:

— Twenty-nine percent of rural Nebraskans live two miles or less from their nearest parents, 75 percent live within 60 miles of a parent and 2 percent live with their parents or their spouse's parents.

— Ten percent of respondents provide daily, voluntary assistance to relatives who are aging, ill or have special needs. Fifteen percent do so weekly and another 13 percent monthly.

— Three percent of rural Nebraskans provide daily, voluntary assistance to neighbors who are aging, ill or have special needs. Eight percent do so weekly and 13 percent monthly.

— As in previous years, rural Nebraskans are most satisfied with their marriages, families, friends, religion/spirituality and the outdoors. They are less satisfied with job opportunities, current income levels and financial security during retirement. Another reflection of an improved perception of the economy: 42 percent said they were satisfied with job opportunities this year, up from 32 percent in 2009. Also, satisfaction with job security increased from 59 percent last year to 66 percent this year.

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 43 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent. Complete results are available online at http://cari.unl.edu/ruralpoll/report10.shtml

The university's Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Initiative with funding from UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.