Rural Nebraskans continue to be optimistic about their current situation and future, according to the 2016 Nebraska Rural Poll.
Fifty-two percent of respondents said they are better off this year than five years ago, holding steady from 53 percent last year, the highest proportion in all 21 years of the study, also occurring in 2008. Only 16 percent said they were worse off.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll in cooperation with the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, with funding from Nebraska Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
This optimism was also reflected in their outlook on the future, with 46 percent believing they will be better off in 10 years. The results were similar to last year’s 48 percent. The percentage of those who thought they will be worse off increased slightly, from 17 percent in 2015 to 20 percent this year.
Respondents’ assessment of their current situation reflects a general pattern of growing optimism over the 21 years of poll results, with bigger declines occurring in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2013. When looking to the future, there has also been a general trend of increasing optimism over the past 21 years, with two bigger declines in 2003 and 2013. This poll was conducted in the spring.
“There can be quite bit of annual variation in these confidence measures resulting from timing with regard to large events and statistical error. However, the trend over the poll’s entire 21 years has been for that confidence to slowly increase,” said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute. “If one considers the array of the things that affect an individual’s day-to-day life, many if not most have in fact improved. If nothing else, technology has made a lot of things easier and created a new set of possibilities for individuals to learn, to participate with others in pursuing their interests, to engage in commerce, and in general to see more opportunities for themselves and their surroundings.”
Brad Lubben, assistant professor of agricultural economics, said he was surprised by the continued optimism from those employed in agriculture.
“I would have expected the ag sector to be less optimistic. They may still be better than five years ago from accumulated wealth, but the outlook for the next 10 years is surprisingly strong,” Lubben said. “Maybe they are looking past the short-run difficulties at the long-run opportunities for growth.”
In addition, most rural Nebraskans disagreed that people are powerless to control their own lives (55 percent). The proportion remained the same as last year.
Differences in satisfaction with respondents’ financial security during retirement were found by community size. Over one-half of persons living in or near the smallest communities (55 percent) report being dissatisfied with their financial security during retirement. In comparison, only 39 percent of persons living in or near communities with populations ranging from 5,000 to 9,999 are dissatisfied with this item.
Rural Nebraskans continued to be most satisfied with their marriage, family, friends, the outdoors, their safety and their general quality of life. They continue to be less satisfied with job opportunities, current income level, their ability to build assets and wealth and financial security during retirement.
Certain groups remained pessimistic about their current and future situation. Those with lower household incomes, older respondents and those with lower educational levels were most likely to be pessimistic about the present and the future.
Rural Nebraskans with lower education levels were more likely than persons with more education to believe that people are powerless to control their own lives. Thirty-six percent of respondents with a high school diploma or less education agreed that people are powerless to control their own lives. However, only 19 percent of those with at least a four-year college degree shared this opinion.
The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. The poll has a collection of data about rural trends and perceptions that is unmatched in the country, said Becky Vogt, survey research manager who has worked on the Rural Poll since its second year. This year’s response rate was 29 percent and the margin of error was plus or minus 2 percent. Complete results are available here. The 21st annual poll was sent to 6,115 households in 86 Nebraska counties in April. Results are based on 1,746 responses.
Although the Grand Island area – Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties – was designated a metropolitan area by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, the Rural Poll continues to include those counties in its sample. Also, Dixon and Dakota counties were added to the poll in 2014.