Rural Nebraskans optimistic about their lives, but…

Nov 6th, 2008 | By | Category: Campus News, November 6, 2008

Rural Nebraskans are much more optimistic about their lives than they have been in previous years, according to the Nebraska Rural Poll. But that finding comes with one giant caveat: The poll was taken last spring, before recent economic upheaval that has some drawing comparisons to the Great Depression.

“I would think if we did this right now we could see the bottom drop out,” said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with Nebraska Rural Initiative and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and member of the poll’s team.

“It’s all about timing,” Cantrell added.

Surveys for the 13th annual UNL poll were mailed to about 6,200 randomly selected households in Nebraska’s 84 rural counties last spring. Results are based on 2,496 responses.

The poll found that 53 percent of rural Nebraskans felt they were better off than they were five years ago – up from 44 percent a year ago and the highest number in the poll’s history. Nineteen percent said they believed they were worse off, up from 15 percent last year. The shift came from the percentage of rural Nebraskans who believed they were about the same as five years ago – down from 41 percent in 2007 to 29 percent in 2008.

The poll also showed rural Nebraskans feeling generally positive about their future. Forty-five percent of respondents said they expect to be better off 10 years from now, up from 41 percent last year. Thirty-three percent expect to be about the same, and 22 percent expect to be worse off in a decade.

Throughout the poll’s 13-year history, rural Nebraskans generally have been positive about their future; most years, the percentage of those expecting to be better off in 10 years has hovered around 41 percent.

For much of the year, there’s been good reason for optimism in rural Nebraska, poll organizers said.

“The ag economy has been robust. And many people in rural Nebraska feel that ‘what’s good for the ag economy is good for my town,'” said Bruce Johnson, UNL agricultural economist.

For the first time, the 2008 poll quizzed respondents about their short-term concerns about specific financial matters. Leading the list of rural Nebraskans’ financial worries were rising fuel prices; 77 percent said they were very concerned about them.

Overall, these findings seem to suggest that rural Nebraskans, though generally satisfied with their lives and optimistic about the future, still worry.

“At the margin, everybody might sense that something’s at risk,” said Brad Lubben, another UNL agricultural economist.

Complete results are available online at

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

— Story by Dan Moser, IANR News Service

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