Drugs and Economy Are Biggest Concerns in Rural America New NPR/Harvard/RWJF Poll shows rural Americans are optimistic but worry about drug abuse and their local economies
NPR logo Drugs and Economy Are Biggest Concerns in Rural America

Drugs and Economy Are Biggest Concerns in Rural America

Note: Open-ended question. No other issues were mentioned by more than 10 percent of rural Americans.Source: NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Credit: Alice Goldfarb/NPR NPR hide caption

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Note: Open-ended question. No other issues were mentioned by more than 10 percent of rural Americans.Source: NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Credit: Alice Goldfarb/NPR

NPR

Washington DC— Opioids and drug abuse and addiction, along with local jobs and the economy, are the top issues facing rural Americans, according to a new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A majority of rural Americans believe outside help will be necessary to solve major community problems in the future, and many believe government will play an important role in solving these problems.

"For many years, the opioid crisis was seen as affecting only a few states — West Virginia, Kentucky and New Hampshire among others. But it never was just about those states," says poll co-director Robert J. Blendon of Harvard. "It's now at the same level of a very serious economic plight that people are really worried about. It affects elections, and it affects how people elected from rural areas view their priorities."

However, the poll also finds considerable optimism about community life in rural American – and a confidence that the next generation will have a better life than current and past generations.

The survey of 1,300 adults living in rural America explores topics across a range of areas of life including several that are directly linked to health such as jobs, education, and economic opportunity.

Read more insight and analysis from NPR: Rural Americans Are Worried About Addiction And Jobs, But Remain Optimistic

Read the full results of the poll: Rural Health Poll

Drug Addiction/Abuse:

  • 57% rural adults say opioid addiction is a serious problem in their community.
  • 49% say they know someone personally who has struggled with opioid addiction.
  • 25% of rural Americans say drug addiction or abuse, including opioids, is the biggest problem facing their community

Jobs/Economy:

  • 55% of rural Americans rate their local economy as only fair or poor.
  • 51% of rural Americans are confident that major problems facing their community will be solved in the next five years, and a majority (58%) believe their community will need outside help to solve its problems.
  • Among those who say their community will need outside help to solve its problems, 60% of rural Americans think the government will play a major role in solving these problems, including 30% who think the state government will play the greatest role.
  • 31% of rural Americans say their local economy has gotten better over the past 5 years, compared to 21% who say it has gotten worse.
  • 21% of rural Americans say economic concerns are the biggest problem facing their community.
  • When it comes to improving their local economy, 64% of rural Americans say better long term job creation would be very helpful, 61% say improving the quality of local public schools, 55% improving healthcare access, and 51% say improving access to advanced job training or skills development.
  • 50% identify health care costs as a serious problem for their family financial situation.
  • 34% of rural Americans say it will be important for them to get training or develop new skills in order to keep their job or find a better job in their local community in the next five years.

Optimism:

  • Looking ahead five years, 39% of rural Americans believe the number of good jobs in their local economy will increase, while 47% believe they will stay the same.
  • 41% of rural Americans say their lives have turned out better than they expected, while 41% say their lives have turned out about like they expected.
  • In terms of their own finances, 54% of rural Americans say they are better off financially than their parents were at their age
  • 55% of rural parents think their children will be better off financially than they are when their children become their age

Strong Connections to Family and Neighbors

  • 81% of rural Americans report feeling attached to their local community
  • 67% of rural Americans say they have ever received help from a neighbor or people in their local community in times of need.
  • 31% say the most important reason why they choose to live in their local community is because of family.
  • 52% of rural Americans say they are active in solving problems in their local community. 59% of younger rural Americans (ages 18-49) say they are active in efforts to solve problems in their local community, compared to 45% of older rural Americans (ages 50+).

Methodology

The survey was conducted June 6-August 4, 2018, among a nationally representative, probability-based telephone (cell and landline) sample of 1,300 adults age 18 or older living in the rural United States. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for total respondents is ±3.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The sample of Rural Americans is defined in this survey as adults living in areas that are not part of a Metropolitan Statistical Area. This is the definition used in the 2016 National Exit Poll.

Contact:
Ben Fishel
NPR Media Relations
Email: mediarelations (at) npr.org