Poll: Despite strong ag ties, rural Nebraskans take downturn in stride
Fifty-five percent of rural Nebraskans say their financial situation is very dependent on the agricultural industry, according to the 2017 Nebraska Rural Poll.
Another 23 percent say some of their economic well-being is tied to agriculture. These ties are particularly strong in smaller communities and in the state's North Central region, the poll shows.
Similarly, 81 percent of respondents say their community's well-being is closely linked to agriculture and 13 percent say it is somewhat tied to the industry.
Despite these connections, the current downturn in the ag economy has not caused most rural Nebraskans to worry. According to the first batch of findings from the Rural Poll – the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans' perceptions on quality of life and policy issues – nearly 60 percent of respondents say their job/income security is about the same as it was a year ago. Just over three in 10 are either more concerned or much more concerned. In contrast, over six in 10 rural Nebraskans were worried about their finances during the national recession in 2009.
Rural Nebraskans seem to acknowledge the cyclical nature of the ag economy. When asked to compare the current downturn to previous ones, 42 percent of those surveyed believe this one is about the same and 23 percent believe it is worse. Eleven percent say this one is better.
"In 2009, recession fear was dominating national news," said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute. "So while the agricultural economy may actually be more central to that of a given community, residents may be less aware of events in that sector than they were of more generalized events in 2009."
Over four in 10 people in agricultural, sales or office-support jobs are more concerned about their financial security than they were a year ago, the poll shows.
"The concern about job and income security was much more widespread outside of agriculture in 2009, while the concern in 2017 seems to be largely coming from agriculture and sales, where agricultural spending on Main Street and on big-ticket items has been affected,” said Brad Lubben, assistant professor of agricultural economics with Nebraska Extension.
Though most respondents aren't concerned about job or income security, 31 percent are very uncertain and 26 percent are somewhat uncertain they could find the kind of job they are looking for in their community. This uncertainty is higher for people living in or near smaller towns and villages.
"This seems to be a realistic evaluation of local economic conditions," Cantrell said. "Certainly it is true that rural Nebraska in general has a growing need for skilled, well-trained workers. However, demand for a specific skill is likely to be more limited in a given rural community. So for skilled workers, losing a job in a rural community is likely to require relocation."
The 22nd annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll was sent to 6,244 households in 86 Nebraska counties in March and April. Results are based on 1,972 responses, a response rate of 32 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent. Complete results are available here.
The university's Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute with funding from Nebraska Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the university's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.