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Rural Nebraskans more pessimistic, but still optimistic on future

LINCOLN, Neb. – Rural Nebraskans are much more pessimistic about their well-being than they were a year ago, but remain generally positive about the future, according to the 2009 Nebraska Rural Poll.

The 14th annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll, taken last March and April, clearly reflects concerns about the economic downturn, poll organizers said. Only 43 percent of respondents said they believed they were better off than they were five years ago – down from an all-time high of 53 percent a year ago.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they believed they were worse off than five years ago, up from 19 percent a year ago – and tying with 2003’s poll for the highest percentage of dissatisfaction in the poll’s history.

Rural Poll surveys were mailed to about 6,400 randomly selected households in Nebraska’s 84 non-metropolitan counties. Results are based on 2,852 responses.

Despite the current concerns, the poll found respondents fairly optimistic about their future. Forty-four percent said they expect to be better off 10 years from now; that’s similar to past years’ findings. Twenty percent expect to be worse off in a decade.

“There is a resilience, a prevailing sense of hope and optimism that’s pretty hard to knock down,” said UNL agricultural economist Bruce Johnson, part of the Rural Poll team.

Still, there’s no doubt the economic troubles of the last year are taking a toll, Johnson and others involved with the poll said.

Brad Lubben, a UNL public policy specialist, said it’s no coincidence that this year’s measure of well-being is similar to 2003’s results. Both polls were taken during uncertain economic times, he said.

The 2003 poll reflected “lingering concerns about the 2001-2002 recession and the lingering drought in Nebraska,” he said.

“Now, in 2009, it is the obvious lingering recession that started in 2008. Economic growth/uncertainty is the most common link to changes in satisfaction/dissatisfaction, so the 2009 results are significant, but not unprecedented,” Lubben added.

Not surprisingly, concerns are especially high in the areas of employment and income. For example, 32 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with job opportunities, down sharply from 48 percent a year ago. Satisfaction with job security dropped from 73 percent in 2008 to 59 percent this year. And satisfaction with financial security during retirement was down from 38 to 24 percent.

Even in other areas of life, though, the poll showed some decreases in satisfaction from 2008 to 2009. Percentages of people satisfied with family life, friends, air quality, education, health, spare time and community still remain quite high, but all showed some dips from a year ago.

The economy “affects your perception of just about everything,” Johnson said.

Lubben added, “There’s just a little bit less rose color on the glasses.”

As in past polls, respondents with lower education levels are more likely than those with more education to feel they are powerless to control their own lives. Forty-two percent of those with high school diploma or less education believe that, while only 22 percent of respondents with a four-year college degree share that opinion.

Also, 38 percent of those who are divorced or separated believe they’re powerless to control their own lives, while only 29 percent of married respondents agree.

“It’s our annual ‘stay in school’ message,” said Randy Cantrell, a rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Initiative. “It’s not just about making money. You’ll also be happier. You will have a greater sense of power in your own life.”

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 44 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent. Complete results are available online at http://cari.unl.edu/ruralpoll/report09.shtml.


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