Date of this Version
Nebraska’s economy has shown growth during recent years. However, the agricultural economy has been experiencing a decline in market prices for most commodities. How have these changes affected rural Nebraskans? How do they perceive their quality of life? Do their perceptions differ by the size of their community, the region in which they live, or their occupation?
This report details results of 3,036 responses to the 1999 Nebraska Rural Poll, the fourth annual effort to take the pulse of rural Nebraskans. Respondents were asked a series of questions about their general well-being and their satisfaction with specific aspects of well-being. Trends are examined by comparing data from the three previous polls to this year’s results. In addition, comparisons are made among different subgroups of the respondents, i.e., comparisons by age, occupation, region, etc. Based on these analyses, some key findings emerged:
• Rural Nebraskans were not as optimistic about their current and future situations as they were in previous studies. The proportion of respondents who said they were better off compared to five years ago had steadily increased between 1996 and 1998 (from 36% to 41%). However, it declined to thirty-five percent in 1999. This pattern continued when asked how they thought they would be ten years from now. In 1996, thirty-two percent believed they would be better off ten years from now. This increased to forty-two percent in 1998, yet decreased to thirty-seven percent in 1999.
• Some groups’ pessimism regarding their current situation increased noticeably between 1998 and 1999. The groups who were considerably more likely to say they were worse off than five years ago in 1999 compared to 1998 include: those living in communities with less than 500 people, people living in the Panhandle, those between the ages of 50 and 64, respondents with less than a 9th grade education, and farmers/ranchers.
• Despite the decline from previous studies, rural Nebraskans still remain relatively optimistic about their current and future situations. Thirty-five percent believe they are better off than five years ago. When asked about the future, thirty-seven percent believe they will be better off ten years from now.
• Farmers and ranchers were less optimistic about the present and the future than respondents with other occupations. When asked how they were doing compared to five years ago, only twenty-seven percent of the farmers or ranchers felt they were better off, compared to fifty-five percent of the respondents with professional occupations. And when considering their future, only thirty-four percent of farmers or ranchers believed they would be better off ten years from now; yet fifty-five percent of the respondents with professional occupations felt they would be better off ten years from now.
• Overall, age, household income and occupation (whether or not a farmer) affect expected future well-being. A multiple regression analysis revealed that these factors are the primary influences on expected future well-being. As age increases, expected future well-being scores decrease. As household income increases, well-being scores also increase. Farmers report lower expected future well-being scores than non-farmers.
• Respondents living in or near smaller communities were more likely than those living in larger communities to feel that people are powerless to control their lives. Fortythree percent of the respondents living in or near communities with populations less than 500 either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that people are powerless to control their lives. However, only thirty-two percent of respondents living in or near communities with populations greater than 10,000 agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.
• Manual laborers and farmers/ranchers were more likely than respondents with different occupations to agree that people are powerless to control their lives. Fortyfour percent of the manual laborers and forty-one percent of the farmers or ranchers agreed or strongly agreed that people are powerless to control their lives. Only twentythree percent of the respondents with professional occupations shared this opinion.
• More than one-half of rural Nebraskans are very satisfied with their family and their marriage. This is similar to findings of the previous studies.
• Farmers and ranchers were more likely than those with different occupations to express satisfaction with their religion/spirituality. Eighty-four percent of farmers and ranchers stated they were very satisfied or satisfied with their religion/spirituality, while only sixty-five percent of the manual laborers felt the same.
• Respondents living in the Panhandle and the North Central region of the state were more likely than those living in other regions to be satisfied with clean air and water. Eighty-five percent of the respondents in these regions were satisfied with clean air and water, while only seventy-six percent of those in the South Central region were satisfied.