BOSTON — According to a new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, rural Americans cite drug/opioid abuse as the biggest problem facing their local community (25 percent), followed by economic concerns (21 percent).
The poll of 1,300 adults living in the rural United States found that a majority of rural Americans (57 percent) say opioid addiction is a serious problem in their community, and about half (49 percent) say they personally know someone who has struggled with opioid addiction. “What has been widely recognized is the serious economic problems facing rural communities today. What has not is that drug/opioid abuse in rural communities is now viewed with the same high level of concern as economic threats,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
On economic issues, rural Americans largely hold negative views of their local economy, but nearly one-third have seen economic progress in recent years. A majority of rural Americans (55 percent) rate their local economy as only fair or poor, while over the past five years, 31% say their local economy has gotten better, and 21 percent say it has gotten worse.
Rural Americans are divided over whether they expect the major problems facing their communities will be solved in the near future, and a majority believe outside help will be necessary to solve these problems. About half of rural Americans (51 percent) say they are confident that major problems facing their local community will be solved in the next five years, and 58 percent believe their community needs outside help to solve its major problems. Among those who say their community needs outside help, about six in ten rural Americans (61 percent) think the government will play the greatest role in solving major problems facing their local community.
In addition, many rural Americans are optimistic about the future. A majority of rural parents (55 percent) think their children will be better off financially than themselves when their children become their age. “There is no single vision of life in small-town America, just as there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improving health,” said Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “But we see in this diversity a common thread — an understanding that health and wellbeing means many things: better access to health care, good job opportunities, and quality education for all.”
Many rural Americans are optimistic about future jobs
Many rural Americans are optimistic about future job opportunities, but they recognize new training and skills may be important for the future rural workforce. Looking ahead five years, 39 percent of rural Americans believe the number of good jobs in their local economy will increase, while 47% believe they will stay the same.
About one-third of rural Americans (34 percent) say it will be important for them to get training or develop new skills in order to keep their job or find a better job in their local community in the next five years, including 25 percent of all rural adults who say they will need computer and technical skills and 24% who say they will need a first or more advanced educational degree or certificate.
Education, job growth, and health care will improve rural economies
When it comes to improving their local economy, a majority of rural Americans think the following approaches would be very helpful: creating better long-term job opportunities (64 percent), improving the quality of local public schools (61 percent), improving access to health care (55 percent), and improving access to advanced job training or skills development (51 percent). (See table below.)
Rural Americans’ Views on Approaches to Improving the Local Rural Economy
Q44. Recently, a number of leadership groups have recommended different approaches for improving the economy of communities like yours. For each of the following, please tell me how helpful you think this approach would be for improving the economy of your local community…[insert item]. Do you think this would be very helpful, somewhat helpful, not too helpful, or not at all helpful?
|Percent saying “very helpful”|
|1. Creating better long-term job opportunities||64%|
|2. Improving the quality of local public schools||61%|
|3. Improving access to health care||55%|
|4. Improving access to advanced job training or skills development||51%|
|5. Improving local infrastructure like roads, bridges, and public buildings||48%|
|6. Improving the use of advanced technology in local industry and farming||44%|
|7. Improving access to small business loans and investments||44%|
|8. Improving access to high-speed internet||43%|
NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Life in Rural America, 6/6/18 – 8/4/18. Q44. Questions asked among a half-sample of respondents: Half Sample A N=669, Half Sample B N=631 rural adults ages 18+.
There are sizable gaps between how minorities and non-minorities believe people are treated in rural communities
Despite low recognition of discrimination against minority groups in their local community by all rural Americans, rural adults belonging to several minority groups see much higher rates of discrimination against members of their group. For example, only 21 percent of all rural Americans say that generally speaking, they think Latinos are discriminated against in their local community, yet 44 percent of Latinos living in rural areas say they think Latinos are discriminated against in their local community. A majority of Latinos (56 percent) also say they think recent immigrants are discriminated against in their local community, compared to 29 percent of all rural Americans who share this view.
*Not enough cases for analysis. NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Life in Rural America, 6/6/18 – 8/4/18. Q19. Total N=1,300 rural adults ages 18+.
The poll in this study is part of an on-going series of surveys developed by researchers at the Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio. The research team consists of the following members at each institution.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis and Executive Director of HORP; John M. Benson, Senior Research Scientist and Managing Director of HORP; Mary T. Gorski Findling, Research Associate; Logan S. Casey, Research Associate in Public Opinion; Justin M. Sayde, Administrative and Research Manager.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Carolyn Miller, Senior Program Officer, Research and Evaluation; and Jordan Reese, Director of Media Relations.
NPR: Andrea Kissack, Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk; Joe Neel, Deputy Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk; Vickie Walton-James, Senior Supervising Editor, National Desk; Laura Smitherman, Deputy Senior Supervising Editor, National Desk; Luis Clemens, Supervising Editor, National Desk; Ken Barcus, Midwest Bureau Chief.
Interviews were conducted by SSRS of Glen Mills (PA) via telephone (including both landline and cell phone) using random-digit dialing, June 6 – August 4, 2018, among a nationally representative probability-based sample of 1,300 adults age 18 or older living in the rural United States. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for total respondents is ±3.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The sample of Rural Americans is defined in this survey as adults living in areas that are not part of a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). This is the definition used in the 2016 National Exit Poll.
Possible sources of non-sampling error include non-response bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Non-response in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases and for variations in probability of selection within and across households, sample data are weighted by cell phone/landline use and demographics (sex, age, education, and Census region) to reflect the true population. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.