Thursday, June 15, 2023

Rural challenges show repeated concerns and a glimmer of optimism by residents, a new survey indicates

Chart by The Daily Yonder from Save Your Town 2023 survey results
How do you feel about the future of your rural town? "Since 2015, two women, Becky McCray and Deb Brown, have been surveying rural communities on how they view their area's problems and future," reports Kristi Eaton of The Daily Yonder. The pair created Save Your Town, an Oklahoma-Mississippi-based effort that helps towns find affordable ways to address local problems.

Often survey results do not follow preconceived ideas, and 2023 results followed that pattern. Pollster Celinda Lake told Eaton, "Rural people were twice as likely to say they were optimistic about their community's future as were negative about their community's future. I was very happy to see how optimistic people were." Lake said she was "really pleased and surprised" to see events, education, tourism and arts and culture listed as top community assets.

The survey was taken online from Nov. 11 to Jan. 31 and got 315 responses from subscribers and visitors to SaveYour.Town and, from news-media coverage and cooperating groups that publicized the survey. "Survey participation is voluntary and self-selected, not based on scientific polling methods, but the online survey does offer a range of responses from people who identify as rural," Eaton points out. "The self-selected participants were more optimistic about the economy than people who participated in the Daily Yonder’s 2022 scientific, randomized poll of rural voters. . . . nearly three-quarters of rural respondents said the economy was not working well for them. Half said they expected their financial situation would get worse in the next year."

Co-founder Becky Brown said the latest survey shows "big disconnects. . . between what rural people want and what services and assistance are commonly offered to them." She "said business owners and leaders said usable buildings are harder to find than loans, and they showed little interest in needing support with business plans or pitch competitions," Eaton reports. "This year’s survey found that in addition to housing and downtowns, other challenges were not enough volunteers, losing young people, and a lack of child care."

In 2019, Save Your Town survey respondents gave these top five concerns: Losing young people; downtown is dead; not enough good housing; need new residents; no one shops in town. In 2021, the top five were identical with the exception of "no one shops downtown" falling off the list and "not enough [residents] volunteer" being added. The latest survey mirrored much of the earlier results but added lack of child care. Although Americans have many divides, repeated concerns on rural responses highlight several issues such as not enough young people (or laborers), a lack of affordable housing and a severe lack of child care options, which are also problematic for urban and suburban areas.

No comments: