Rural Pulse raises community voices
Minnesota has work to do. While we generally are quite optimistic about the future, economic recovery is not reaching all Minnesotans, especially those older, with lower incomes, and small businesses. That’s the top line gleaned from interviews with nearly 2,000 rural and urban Minnesotans.
Thanks to a grant from the Minnesota Community Foundation, we were able to tap urban perspectives this time around, which has been fascinating to compare and contrast. Results, charts and related news are at www.ruralpulse.org.
Dave Peters, who writes the Ground Level blog for Minnesota Public Radio poses the great question in his headline: OK, it’s the economy, but is it ONLY the economy that makes us different? Dave compares two Minnesota regions, the Southwest and the Northeast, and writes:
Early analysis of the numbers by Blandin echoed the role of the economy. Median incomes between the two regions are similar but the unemployment rate is consistently 2 points lower in southwestern Minnesota.
But is that the only explanation? These are regions with different histories, different heritages, different cultures, different politics. Why wouldn’t the outlook people have be different?
I last took a run at this phenomenon when I mapped the per capita issuance of gun permits. There was a pretty obvious regional variation.
I didn’t really come up with many satisfactory explanations then, and the economic answer notwithstanding, I’m not sure I can now either. Anyone?
Rural residents were asked how well they believe their community handles several local issues. The most highly rated were environmental stewardship, crime control, services for the elderly, education, improving access to technology and residential housing. They gave the lowest community ratings for attracting new businesses that provide ample living-wage jobs.
While residents note that the economy has improved somewhat, 58 percent of rural Minnesotans and 41 percent of urban Minnesotans say there are insufficient local job opportunities. Urban residents are nearly twice as likely as rural residents to say that their economy has improved over the past year.
In Itasca County, this percentage is even higher. A separate polling of Itasca County area residents found that 65 percent do not believe that there is an adequate number of jobs in the community that pay household-supporting wages. In fact, the study revealed that attracting new, high-quality jobs is even more of a top priority here than in other rural areas. For the Itasca area, 42 percent said this was a top priority with education the next highest at 12 percent.
The survey also shows political clout is a concern in rural Minnesota. A third of people say they believe lawmakers pay less attention to the needs of rural Minnesota than to those in the metro area. That includes 63-year-old Gretchen Ramlo, a retired businesswoman from Austin, Minn. Ramlo said she’s satisfied with her local elected officials, but believes the Legislature as a whole isn’t as responsive.
“I think that oftentimes our policy makers forget about rural Minnesota and outstate areas,” Ramlo said. “Very rarely do they come out and have their meetings here, talk to us … I think the majority of the people think about the metro area and very rarely us.”
Jim Gullickson, Rural Minnesota Radio, called the Rural Pulse a “birds-eye view of the attitudes and perspectives Minnesotans have about their communities“ and featured Blandin Foundation CEO Kathy Annette’s take on the Pulse: Hear the audio here.
Here’s to a continuing, robust conversation about the voices, priorities and vibrancy of all Minnesota communities!