LINCOLN, Neb. -- Rural Nebraskans are feeling pretty good about their lives, although individual attitudes vary considerably depending on education, income level, age and other factors, according to the 2006 Nebraska Rural Poll.



Those findings in the 11th annual poll are not a surprise, say the University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers who work on the poll.



"This is our annual stay-in-school message," said rural sociologist Randy Cantrell.



The value of education is reflected in respondents' satisfaction with their current lives, their optimism about the future and their sense of control over their lives.
For example, 38 percent of respondents said they believe people are powerless to control their own lives -- up from 32 percent last year and the highest in the poll's history.
"This sense of powerlessness is maybe a characteristic of an across-the-board time of uncertainty," speculated Bruce Johnson, a UNL agricultural economist.



A closer look at that finding shows the impact of education on individuals' sense of control over their lives: 46 percent of respondents with a high-school diploma or less education said they felt powerless, while only 25 percent of those with a four-year college degree agreed.



Age and income level also are factors. Forty-six percent of respondents 65 and older said they felt powerless; only 19 percent of those 19-29 felt that way. Forty-three percent of respondents with incomes under $40,000 said they felt powerless; only 25 percent of those with incomes above $60,000 felt that way.



Rural Poll surveys were mailed in March to about 6,200 randomly selected households in Nebraska's 84 rural counties. Results are based on 2,482 responses.
Not surprisingly, Johnson and Cantrell noted, higher-income rural Nebraskans are more likely than lower-income residents to say they're better off now than they were five years ago and better off compared to their parents at the same age. They also expect to be better off 10 years from now.



On that last question, for example, 52 percent of respondents making at least $60,000 expect to be better off in a decade; only 22 percent of those making less than $20,000 feel that way.



Overall, 34 percent of respondents expect to be better off in 10 years, 21 percent expect to be worse off and 45 percent expect to be about the same. Thirty-five percent say they're better off than they were five years ago, 21 percent say they're worse off and 45 percent say they're about the same. And 57 percent say they're better off than their parents at the same age, 17 percent say they're worse off and 27 percent say they're about the same.



Forty-two percent of respondents reported being satisfied with job opportunities, a rebound from a low of 34 percent in 2004 and the highest level of job-opportunity satisfaction recorded in the poll's history.



As in past polls, rural Nebraskans are most satisfied with their marriages, families, friends, religion/spirituality and the outdoors. They continue to be less satisfied with job opportunities, current income levels and financial security during retirement.



Overall, rural Nebraskans feel "a pretty solid sense of well being," Johnson said.

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. Complete results are available online.



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



SOURCE: University of Nebraska news release.