The smaller the town, the more likely rural Nebraskans were to say their communities were trusting, friendly and supporting. Those who lived in or near bigger rural communities, however, were more likely to say their towns had changed for the better.
The University of Nebraska has been polling rural residents for the past 13 years. This year’s results (a survey of 2,496 people living in Nebraska’s 84 rural counties) finds a people generally satisfied with their communities and their prospects.
There were differences among rural Nebraskans, however. For instance, 76% of those living in or near communities of fewer than 500 people said their community was supportive and friendly. But 62% of those living in or near communities of 10,000 or more believe their communities are supportive and friendly.
However, 36% of those living in the larger communities say their communities had changed for the better, compared to 23% of those living in or near communities of fewer than 500. Overall, 33% of Nebraskans thought their communities had changed for the better, up from 23% in 2003.
The poll was taken in March and at that time rural Nebraskans were optimistic about their prospects, much more optimistic than in previous years. The percentage of people saying they were better off than they were five years ago increased from 44% in 2007 top 53% this year. This was the highest rating in the 13 years of the study.
Those who believe they will be better off in ten years tallied 45%, slightly above the average over the 13 years of 41%.
Not all Nebraskans think alike, of course, and subgroups within the poll had significantly different views of their state. For instance, younger Nebraskans were more likely than older residents to believe they are better off than they were five years ago. Of those 19 to 29 years of age, 39% said they were better off. However, only 6 percent of those 65 years or older made similar observations. (Those of us here at Yonder headquarters closer to 65 than 29 can well understand the difference of opinion here.)
The groups most likely to say their community had changed for the better included those with the most income, the highest education levels, those with professional jobs and those who had lived in their communities for more than five years.
Older residents, meanwhile, were more likely to view their communities as trusting than the youngest respondents. And both the youngest and oldest groups were the mostly likely to see their communities as friendly and supportive.
Nebraskans were more satisfied with some community services than others. They were most satisfied with fire protection (nearly 9 out of ten satisfied), libraries, parks, religious organizations and education. Nearly 6 out of ten say they are satisfied with their Internet connections, a percentage that has been rising over the last few years.
Those polled were less satisfied with entertainment, retail shopping, restaurants, arts and cultural opportunities and local government. (Only 36% were satisfied with local government.)
Younger Nebraskans were more dissatisfied with entertainment, shopping and restaurants than older residents. Nearly three out of four of those 19 to 29 years of age were dissatisfied with entertainment possibilities compared to 29 percent of those over 65. Those with more income and education were also more troubled by the lack of local amenities.
Younger people were more likely than older to be dissatisfied with the condition of streets and roads. Older people were more likely to be dissatisfied with local government.
Nebraskans are a pretty happy group when it comes to their communities. Two-thirds of those interviewed agree with the statement “my community is very special to me.” And nearly the same number agreed, “I feel I can really be myself in my community.” One half of those interviewed say it would be difficult to leave their communities.
Only five percent of those interviewed say they plan to leave their communities in the next year, and half of those say they plan to remain in Nebraska. However, almost half of all newcomers to rural communities (those who have been there fewer than five years) say it would be easy to leave and 15 percent say they are planning to move within the next year.