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Poll: Rural Nebraskans adapt to economic downturn, not always in healthy ways

Nebraska

Rural Nebraskans are adapting to the economic downturn by cutting back spending on luxuries, but some also are delaying medical treatment or running up credit card debt on routine expenses, according to the Nebraska Rural Poll.

The 14th annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll, taken last March and April, focused on how rural Nebraskans have been impacted by the recession and what changes they've made in their lives. Surveys were mailed to about 6,400 randomly selected households in Nebraska's 84 non-metropolitan counties. Results are based on 2,852 responses.

"There's a lot of concern," said rural sociologist Randy Cantrell of the Nebraska Rural Initiative. "People are making or planning on making adaptations" in their lives to deal with the economy.

In the last year, the poll found, 11 percent of rural Nebraska's households with employed persons had someone lose a job because of cutbacks or layoffs. About 35 percent of households had their regular working hours or overtime reduced. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they'd had a household member take on an additional job to support the household.

Rural Nebraskans working in production, transportation and warehousing occupations were more likely than those employed in other fields to have experienced job loss. Fifty-eight percent of people working these areas said they'd had work hours or overtime reduced in the last year. Eighteen percent of households with a member in this type of occupation saw someone actually lose their job.

Also, 51 percent of rural business owners said they'd seen income losses, and 75 percent of rural Nebraskans suffered investment losses.

The breadth of investment losses mark one of the most significant differences between this downtown and the Great Depression to which it has been compared, UNL researchers said.

"It's pretty significant that virtually everybody shows investment losses," said Brad Lubben, public policy specialist. "Unlike the Great Depression, Main Street is invested in Wall Street. What happens nationally and globally does affect rural Nebraska. We can't say we're immune to it."

Rural Nebraskans have taken action to deal with the downturn, according to the poll. Sixty-nine percent said they've cut back on entertainment and dining out. Fifty-four percent reported delaying a major purchase, and just under 50 percent said they'd cancelled or delayed vacation plans.

Some have even taken up bartering--trading work, services or materials with other persons rather than exchanging money. Thirty-four percent of respondents said they'd used bartering in the last year.

However, the Rural Poll found some lower-income Nebraskans have taken more desperate steps to make ends meet.



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