Rural Poll: Nebraska communities show characteristics of resilience

Strong Recovery Project
Courtesy photo | Nebraska Strong Recovery Project
Outreach workers with the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project help fill sandbags at Hanson Lake in Sarpy County in May 2019. Most rural Nebraskans surveyed say their community exemplifies characteristics of resilience, according to the 2020 Nebraska Rural Poll.
August 5, 2020

Lincoln, Neb. —Most rural Nebraskans surveyed say their community exemplifies characteristics of resilience, according to the 2020 Nebraska Rural Poll.

More than six in 10 Nebraskans who responded to the Rural Poll, which was sent to 7,000 rural households across the state in April, said they agreed or strongly agreed with the following statements: People in my community help each other (82%); I believe in the ability of my community to overcome an emergency situation (76%); people in my community work together to improve the community (69%); I can depend on people in my community to come to my assistance in a crisis (68%); my community keeps people informed about issues that are relevant to them (65%); and there is trust among the residents of my community (63%).

However, rural Nebraskans were less likely to say their community treats everyone fairly, actively plans for disasters, trusts public officials, or looks at its successes and failures to learn from the past, according to Becky Vogt, survey research manager for the Rural Poll.

Community size played a role in some of these perceptions. Residents of larger communities were more likely to agree that their community looks at its successes and failures to learn from the past, keeps people informed about relevant issues, actively prepares for disasters, and trusts local leaders to respond to emergency situations. Those living in or near mid-sized communities (populations ranging from 500 to 9,999) were most likely to say their community has priorities and sets goals for the future.

Meanwhile, residents of smaller communities were more likely to report that they knew how to help solve major community problems. Just over half of those living in or near the smallest communities (populations under 500) agreed that they knew how to help solve major problems, compared to 37% of those living in or near communities with populations of 5,000 to 9,999.

These findings suggest that although larger communities appear to have more formal planning for emergencies, residents of smaller communities remain more confident of their ability to handle challenges, according to Brad Lubben, extension associate professor and policy specialist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

“While residents of the smallest communities lack existing plans, services or infrastructure of larger communities, they are ready to get the job done when something happens,” Lubben said.

Even if small communities have the willingness and know-how to handle emergencies, they may lack necessary resources, said Jason Weigle, associate extension educator.

“Last year’s extreme weather helped illustrate the gap between feeling prepared and being prepared,” Weigle said. “Filling this gap is where planning and preparation can set the stage for success in disaster recovery and long-term resilience.”

Perceptions of community resilience varied by region, and the Panhandle stood out in many areas. Poll respondents from the Panhandle were the regional group least likely to agree that people in their community work together to improve the community, that their community looks at its successes and failures, that their community has priorities and sets goals for the future, that they believe in the ability of their community to overcome an emergency situation, that the community trusts public officials and that they trust local leaders to respond to emergency situations.

Just under three in 10 Panhandle residents agreed that people in their community trust public officials, compared to more than four in 10 residents of the other four regions.

The 2020 poll was mailed just after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many schools and workplaces across Nebraska and disrupted agriculture and other industries. Most rural Nebraskans who responded to the poll (89%) agreed that infectious diseases will have a major impact in the country in the next few years. And most rural Nebraskans assumed there will be limits on what federal and local governments can do to contain a widespread infectious disease outbreak. Fifty-one percent indicated a lack of confidence in the federal government’s ability to contain a national outbreak, and four in 10 indicated a lack of confidence in local authorities to contain an outbreak in their community.

Those living in or near larger communities were more confident in their local emergency management authorities to contain a widespread infectious outbreak.

The 2020 poll also asked about respondents’ financial resilience. The poll asked respondents whether they would be able to come up with $3,000 in the next month to deal with an emergency. Most rural Nebraskans surveyed (54%) responded they could tap into savings, while 45% said they could use credit cards and 44% said they could use a bank loan. Most of those surveyed said they wouldn’t use a payday lender loan (62%), or more distant family members or their wider social network (50%).

Some groups, including those with a household income under $40,000, those who are divorced or separated, and those who work in food service or personal care occupations, were less prepared to handle a financial emergency. Three in 10 respondents from those groups said it would not be possible to use savings to cover a $3,000 emergency.

“Individuals with higher income and more education consistently reported higher levels of individual and financial resilience,” said L.J. McElravy, associate professor of youth civic leadership at Nebraska. “Although not shocking, the results drive home the importance of money and education in how people think about hardships in their community and finances.”

The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year’s response rate was 33%. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2%. View complete results.

The university’s Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll with funding from Nebraska Extension and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

by Rebecca Vogt | Agricultural Economics

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