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Poll: Younger Nebraskans Concerned About Rural Services

A closer look at the just-released 2007 Nebraska Rural Poll's findings offers reasons for both optimism and concern about the future.

For example, rural Nebraskans are generally satisfied with basic community services and amenities, with at least 70% feeling positive about fire protection, parks and recreation, library services and religious organizations.

However, at least one-third of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with entertainment, shopping, restaurants, streets and roads, arts/cultural activities and local government in their community. Moreover, In most of the categories--even those services and amenities with generally high marks--the level of satisfaction has dropped over the last 10 years. In some key areas, that decrease has been precipitious: Only 23% of respondents are satisfied with mental health services, down from 34% in 1997, and only 31% are satisfied with day care services, down from 51% 10 years ago.

Younger respondents were more likely to be dissatisfied with their community's services. For example, 60% of respondents 19-39 years old were dissatisfied with entertainment options, while only 28% of people over 65 were.

"Some of those individual indicators aren't very positive," says Bruce Johnson, an agricultural economist who's part of the Rural Poll team. "That doesn't bode well for retaining as well as attracting younger individuals and families. As rural areas look to adapt. . .you'd better give a good look at day care and things like that.

"It's an evolving rural population, and certain needs and amenities of rural areas are going to take on increasing importance," Johnson adds.

This year's Rural Poll made a special attempt to sample more Latinos, a population that's increased significantly in some parts of the state.

David Peters, a rural sociologist on the Rural Poll team, says the poll found Latinos are less positive than non-Latinos about many aspects of rural life. For example, they're less likely to view their community as trusting, more likely to believe people are powerless to control their own lives and more likely to be dissatisfied with their community's retail shopping, restaurants and public transportation.

On the other hand, Peters points out, Latinos clearly are making strides. Seventy percent of Latinos expect to be better off in 10 years than now; that compares with 38% of non-Latinos. Also, 46% of Latinos believe their community has changed for the better in the last year, compared with 31% of non-Latinos. That may be explained, in part, by definition of community; many Latinos may think of their own cultural surroundings as community, rather than the larger region.

Also, more Latinos than non-Latinos expect to be on the move in the next year; 16% plan to leave their community, compared with only 4% of non-Latinos. Of those planning to move, 34% expect to go to Lincoln or Omaha and 40% expect to leave Nebraska.

"We have a Latino population that is pretty positive about their communities, pretty positive about their futures," says Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the university's Rural Initiative.

"It's the basic path of assimilation," Peters adds.

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 40%. The margin of error is plus or minus 3%. Complete results are available online at  

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

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