Minnesotans had their say on everything from healthcare to drug abuse in the 2019 Rural Pulse survey released by the Blandin Foundation this week.

Jobs paying a living wage, access to affordable healthcare and childcare, and concerns about opioid and drug abuse were among the top concerns. The priorities of these issues were varied, however based on geography, income, gender, age and other factors.

Rural Pulse, which has tracked such perspectives since 1998, specifically looked at what local issues residents were concerned about and how their communities and the state were addressing them. 

According to the 2019 survey taken in late January through early February this year, a third of both urban (31 percent) and rural (38 percent) residents polled felt metropolitan needs were more important to elected officials than those of rural communities.  While one in three Minnesotans statewide felt the economy had improved over the past year, many were not feeling it within their own households.  Only 28 percent of rural and 33 percent of urban Minnesotans reported their household income increased over the past year.

In the Itasca area, more than half (56 percent) of residents reported the local economy had stayed the same compared to a year ago; 22 percent felt it had improved. Compared to 36 percent among those in rural communities statewide, 54 percent of Itasca area residents felt their community did not provide an adequate number of living wage jobs. Only 17 percent of Itasca area residents said they saw a decline in their annual household income within the past year—down from 24 percent when surveyed in 2016.  Nearly one-third (29 percent) saw an increase.

New to the Rural Pulse survey this year were questions related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Close to half (54 percent) of rural residents and 40 percent of Itasca area residents said they had at least some close friends of a different race or culture than themselves. 

When it came to groups that may experience bias, discrimination or harassment in their community, most often mentioned by Itasca area residents were transgender individuals, those with drug or mental health issues, African Americans, Native Americans, recent immigrants and gays/lesbians. 

Minnesotans – both urban and rural and across all demographics – gave themselves high marks when standing up to hate or discrimination if they see it occur; 80 percent (and 82 percent of Itasca area residents) agreed that people in their community feel comfortable doing so.

“Blandin Foundation invests in the Rural Pulse about every three years to provide a snapshot of how Minnesota is doing on issues that go straight to community health,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, president and CEO.  “I see a tremendous amount of commitment, leadership and optimism in these results.  And, yes, concern about the local economy that we all must work to address.”

For a full overview of the Rural Pulse report please see the May edition of BusinessNorth.