Washington, DC--The W.K. Kellogg Foundation Nov. 27 released the results of a study of rural, suburban and urban residents' perceptions of rural America. This study is the first in a series of studies planned by the Kellogg Foundation over the coming year to better understand rural America.
The in-depth, qualitative study, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc., in eight diverse regions across the country, found that perceptions of rural America are centered on a series of dichotomies:
--Rural life represents traditional American values, but is behind the times;.
--Rural life is more relaxed and slower than city life, but harder and more grueling;.
--Rural life is friendly, but intolerant of outsiders and difference;.
--Rural life is richer in community life, but epitomized by individuals struggling independently to make ends meet.
"Overall we found that respondents hold overwhelmingly positive views of rural life, seeing it as a repository of strong values and religious faith, close-knit communities, hard work and self-sufficiency," said Anna Greenberg, Vice President of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc. "But respondents' admiration of rural Americans and romanticization of rural life is tempered by their understanding that rural Americans face serious economic hardships and threats to their way of life."
Lack of financial resources and other opportunities topped respondents' list of problems facing rural America. The most common response to the question "What problems do you think rural America faces?" was lack of money and poverty (19%), over-development/sprawl (17%), price of crops (14%), droughts/weather (11%) and lack of opportunities (11%). Almost half, 46%, of rural respondents indicated they have considered moving, primarily because of low pay and sparse opportunities for advancement.
Agriculture plays the predominant role in respondents' perception or rural America, despite the fact that less than 2% of the rural residents interviewed identified themselves as farmers. Two-thirds of both rural and non-rural respondents named agriculture, farming or ranching as the main industry of rural America despite the fact that only 11.7% of non-metro residents in the US are farmers, or work in industries that provide farm inputs or agricultural processing/marketing services. Both rural and non-rural residents alike saw large-scale, corporate farms in a negative light.
"The concerns about poor pay are matched by a near universal perception that rural areas face serious limitations in access to healthcare and quality education. Six-in-10 respondents, including 63% of rural respondents, believe that rural residents have fewer opportunities than suburban and urban residents, while only 6% (including 8% of rural respondents) believe rural residents have more opportunities," said Greenberg.
When asked who is responsible for solving rural America's problems, only 17% said the federal government. Instead, 43% said individuals (26%) or local communities (17%) should help themselves.
" Most respondents view rural America as a treasure chest of American values," said Rick Foster, Vice President for Programming, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. "If we depopulate rural America through out-migration, what happens to these values?"
The survey was conducted Sept. 6-Oct. 5, 2001 by telephone interviews of 242 rural, suburban, and urban Americans in eight regions across the United States. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted all interviews.
Several other studies are planned in the next 18 months including: Interviews with members of Congress and their staffs; a national public opinion survey; regional focus groups and a content analysis of media coverage of rural America.
"Taken together, we hope this research will give all Americans a better sense of rural America, where we are and where we are going," said Ali Webb, Communications Manager for Food Systems and Rural Development at the Kellogg Foundation.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930 "to help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations." Its programming activities center around the common vision of a world in which each person has a sense of worth; accepts responsibility for self, family, community, and societal well-being; and has the capacity to be productive, and to help create nurturing families, responsive institutions, and healthy communities.
The Perceptions of Rural America report may be accessed at http://www.wkkfweb.org/ruralsurvey.htm. More information about the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and its programs is available on the Foundation's Website at http://www.wkkf.org.