Despite economic challenges and recent weather disasters, rural Nebraskans are more optimistic than they've ever been in the history of an ongoing Nebraska Rural Poll.
Fifty-six percent of respondents to the poll conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Department of Agricultural Economics said they believe they are better off than they were five years ago.
That's a figure up from 52% last year and the highest proportion recorded during the 24 years of the study.
Fifty-two percent said they believe they'll be even better off in 10 years.
The Rural Poll was sent to 6,260 households in 86 counties in March and April right after Nebraska's historic flooding and 1,776 persons responded.
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"With the unprecedented disasters we have seen this year, the results are surprising, but not necessarily out of the ordinary," said Jason Weigle, associate extension educator with Nebraska Extension.
"Collective recovery from disasters can create strong feelings of place and pride," he said.
Satisfaction with job opportunities in rural Nebraska increased from 41% last year to 49% this year; job security increased from 68% to 75%; satisfaction with financial security during retirement increased from 42% to 48%.
Panhandle residents were less positive about both their community and their well-being compared with residents in other regions.
The loss of Cabela's headquarters in Sidney, which had been a significant economic driver across the Panhandle, may be one of the key reasons for pessimism, said Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, who is an extension professor at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff.