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25 for 25: Rural Economic Opportunity

We are commemorating our 25th Anniversary with 25 posts about our history and accomplishments between now and the Spotlight Gala on September 15.  Join us for a celebration of Voices for Children and all of the organizations, lawmakers, and individuals who have supported our work on behalf of children.  For details, visit voicesforchildren.com/spotlight-gala.


In 2001, Voices for Children partnered with North and South Dakota, with the assistance of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to explore rural poverty through both statistics and community-based research and identify issues impacting children in rural communities.  The project was called the “Rural Great Plains Collaborative” and Voices for Children released a report with the findings from this project in 2001.

The research found several issues impacting children and  economic security in rural communities:

1) Employment:  Many research participants cited the need for viable employment opportunities that pay enough to support a family.  As one participant noted, “The number of jobs here is about eight and they’ll probably be filled until those people pass away.”

2) Transportation:  Transportation was sited as a significant barrier to accessing employment, goods, and services in rural communities.  As one person stated, “Stores cost more in a rural community.  They can jack up the prices because by the time you drive 2 hours, you’re not saving any money.”

3) Recreation:  The report noted a lack of adequate recreational options for children and youth.  One participant said, “I have teenagers, my kids get bored real fast and during the summer it is very hard to keep them occupied.”

4) Childcare:  One of the common obstacles to employment was a lack of quality affordable child care.  One participant posed the rhetorical question, “Get out and work, get out and work, but are they helping us to get the quality of daycare that we need?”

5) Medical:  A significant area of concern was the issue of access to medical care.  One person noted, “I think in the rural communities that a key point is that the services aren’t there.  I mean we travel over 100 miles each way to take our kids to therapy.”

6) Stigma and Prejudice:  The report found that in smaller communities, participants described feeling stigmatized by being labeled “poor” as well racial prejudice against some groups.  As one participant said, “In a smaller community because everybody knows everybody it’s not always a benefit to be qualified for WIC or Head Start because of the social stature that goes along with it.”

It’s been over a decade since the work of the Rural Great Plains Collaborative, but there’s reason to believe that many of these issues are still impacting rural families today.  In Nebraska, our rates of rural poverty are significantly higher than they were a decade ago and in our travels around the state we have heard that challenges with access to medical care, child care, and quality employment are ongoing.

What do you think?  How have rural communities changed since 2001?  And what can we do today to improve rural economic opportunity for the future?


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