LINCOLN, Neb. -- 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.

Forty-five percent of respondents with household incomes under $40,000 reported delaying medical services to save money. Twenty-seven percent of respondents with income under $20,000 said they'd used credit cards to pay routine bills.

"That is a real red flag," said Bruce Johnson, an agricultural economist. "You can only do that so long and you dig yourself into a deeper hole."

Rural Nebraskans continue to worry about the impact of the recession. Thirty-six percent worry about being unable to pay their bills; 44 percent worry they'll have to postpone retirement; 46 percent worry about meeting their or their children's educational expenses; 47 percent worry about their home's value decreasing; and 76 percent worry about further declines in the value of their stocks and retirement investments.

Rural Nebraskans see both advantages and disadvantages to living in smaller communities and rural areas when economic times are tough. On the one hand, 71 percent said neighbors help each other; on the other hand, 71 percent also agree that there are fewer jobs available.

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 about 40 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

The university's Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Rural Initiative with funding from UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

SOURCE: University of Nebraska.