Date of this Version
Nebraska’s economy has shown growth during recent years. However, the agricultural economy has not been faring as well in recent years. 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 4,536 responses to the 2000 Nebraska Rural Poll, the fifth 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 four 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’ perceptions of their well-being have remained relatively stable over the past five years. Approximately 40 percent in all five studies believe they are better off than they were five years ago. The greatest variation in this trend occurred in 1999 when the proportion dipped to 35 percent. Similarly, the proportion believing they will be better off ten years from now has been approximately 35 percent in all the studies. The only deviation from this pattern occurred in 1998 when the proportion increased to 42 percent. Finally, no distinct trends have emerged relative to whether or not the respondents feel powerless to control their lives.
• The differences in optimism between the youngest and oldest respondents have increased over time. In 1996, 59 percent of those between the ages of 19 and 29 said they were better off compared to five years ago, but only 23 percent of those age 65 and older felt the same (a difference of 36 percentage points). But in 2000, the difference between these two groups increased to 47 percentage points (70 percent of the youngest felt they were better off, while only 23 percent of the older respondents felt the same).
• The gap in optimism about the future between the highest and lowest income groups has also increased over time. A difference of 26 percentage points occurred between these two income groups in 1996 (47 percent of those with incomes of $75,000 or more believed they would be better off ten years from now compared to 21 percent of those with incomes under $10,000). This difference has swelled to 46 percentage points in 2000 (59 percent of the higher incomes compared to only 13 percent of those with the lowest incomes).
• 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 30 percent of the farmers or ranchers felt they were better off, compared to 54 percent of the respondents with professional occupations. And when considering their future, only 39 percent of farmers or ranchers believed they would be better off ten years from now; yet 50 percent of the respondents with professional occupations felt they would be better off ten years from now.
• Persons living in larger communities were more optimistic about their current situation compared to those living in smaller communities. Approximately 43 percent of those living in communities with populations of 5,000 or more felt they were better off compared to five years ago. Only 31 percent of those living in communities with populations ranging from 500 to 999 shared this optimism.
• No differences in optimism were detected by region of the state. There were no statistically significant differences in respondents’ perceptions of either their current or future well-being by the region of the state in which they reside.
• Overall, age and household income affect expected future well-being. A multiple regression analysis revealed that these two 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.
• Respondents with lower educational levels were more likely than those with more education to agree that people are powerless to control their lives. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents without a high school diploma either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, while only 21 percent of those with at least a bachelors degree shared this opinion. Those with lower incomes and older respondents also tended to exhibit more feelings of powerlessness.
• More than one-half of rural Nebraskans are very satisfied with their marriage, their family, and their religion/spirituality. This is similar to findings of the previous studies.
• The three areas where respondents expressed their greatest dissatisfaction include their current income level, their financial security during retirement, and job opportunities.
• Farmers and ranchers were more likely than those with different occupations to express dissatisfaction with their current income level. Fifty-seven percent of farmers and ranchers stated they were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with their current income level, while only 34 percent of the respondents with professional occupations felt the same.