Top chart: About half (49 percent) of rural Minnesotans think the economy is about the same today as it was in 2016. Thirty-one percent think it has improved. Bottom chart: Rural Minnesotans' views on the health of the economy since 1998. (Source for all charts: Blandin Foundation Rural Pulse poll)

Rural Minnesotans are more optimistic about the economy in 2016 than they were three years ago but still concerned about the number and quality of jobs, according to Rural Pulse, a survey commissioned by the Blandin Foundation based in Grand Rapids.

Nearly a third of rural Minnesotans (31 percent) said the economy had improved in the last year. That’s significantly higher than the 18 percent of rural residents who thought the economy had improved in 2010 and the 22 percent who said the economy had improved in 2013.

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Rural and urban residents had different opinions about which issues were most important. Rural residents put jobs and attracting new business at the top of the list. For urban respondents, education was the most important issue.

But rural residents were more likely than urban residents to identify job opportunities and attracting new entrepreneurs and businesses as their most critical issues (15 and 14 percent respectively). Urban residents, on the other hand, identified educational opportunities as their top concern (15 percent).

The random survey of Minnesota residents broke the state into two groups based on metro size and population density. “Rural” residents were those who lived outside the state’s largest metro area, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and who also lived in a ZIP code of fewer than 35,000 residents. Under this definition, about half the state’s 5.3 million residents are rural. Using the Census definition, which is based on different criteria such as urbanization and population density, about 27 percent of the state’s population is rural.

This is the fifth Rural Pulse survey, which the foundation first commissioned in 1998.

“Rural places are rich with possibility—abundant natural resources, optimistic and committed leaders, quality of life,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, president and CEO for Blandin Foundation, in a press release from the foundation.

“Nearly half of our state’s population lives in rural places, and Rural Pulse results remind us that economic recovery is not yet reaching all Minnesotans. We must press on if we want to be a state that is resilient, healthy and vibrant.”

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Nearly three quarters (72 percent) of rural respondents said they think “life will improve” for them over the next five years. For urban residents, that sentiment was 10 points stronger.

Other findings confirmed that rural residents in the North Star State have a dimmer view of economic recovery than their urban counterparts.

  • Nearly half (48%) of rural residents felt that living-wage job opportunities in their community are inadequate. In contrast, only 27 percent of urban residents felt living-wage opportunities were inadequate.
  • One-third of rural residents said their household income has increased over the past year at the same time that 22 percent say it actually has decreased—similar to 2013 and only slightly improved over 2010.

Different demographic groups and regions of the state had differing opinions about the state of the economy, the study found:

  • Rural residents ages 25 to 34 and those whose annual household income is greater than $100,000 were most likely to feel the economy has improved (41% say it has).  Central Minnesota shows the greatest sense of improvement, with 37 percent of residents believing that the economy had improved (up 17 points since 2013).
  • Meanwhile, those with the lowest incomes ($35,000 or less) and those ages 50 and older were least likely to believe that the economy has improved.  Only 19 percent of Minnesota’s Northeast region believed they have seen improvement.
  • Populations of color, especially African Americans, felt better about the state of the economy.  Most (55%) of African Americans living in rural Minnesota who were surveyed said that their local economy had improved, with more than one-third of rural residents who are Asian, Hispanic and Native American saying it had improved.

Rural residents overall were less satisfied with many community services in 2016 compared to 2013. Opinions about services for the elderly, education, crime control, environmental stewardship, and broadband access declined. But rural residents were more likely in 2016 to say they had adequate healthcare than they were in 2013.

The 2016 survey, administered by Russell Herder, was given to a random sample of 1,144 rural Minnesotans and 450 urban Minnesotans. The margin of error for the rural survey was +/-2.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. For the urban sample, the margin of error was +/- 4.7 percentage points.

Complete results of the survey, along with additional studies on racial diversity and other topics, are available at the Rural Pulse website.

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This chart compares rural opinions about the status of community services. Rural residents viewed most services less favorably in 2016 than they did three years ago, except for “adequate healthcare.”

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