Study Looks At Quality Of Life Of Ethnic Minorities in Rural Nebraska

Rodrigo Cantarero (second from left) and Maria de Guzman (center). (Photo courtesy University of Nebraska Communications)
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April 9, 2019 - 6:45am

A new University of Nebraska-Lincoln study looks at the livelihood and well-being of ethnic minorities in rural communities across the state. 650 respondents from three communities were surveyed: Scottsbluff, Columbus and Norfolk. We visit with a psychologist, Maria de Guzman, and a city planner, Rodrigo Cantarero, both from UNL, about the survey and their research. Two of the communities surveyed, Columbus and Norfolk, were hit hard by March's spring flooding. They also look at how that could impact trends going forward.


Brandon McDermott, NET News: Two-thirds of the 93 counties (in Nebraska) have had a loss in population and we're seeing similar trends all around the country. How has the influx of ethnic minorities in the rural communities affected this decline here in the state?

Rodrigo Cantarero, associate professor of community and regional planning at UNL: There's a number of communities who are losing population in terms of their natural growth. Now this is being replaced in many places by immigrants coming in from all sorts of places. A lot of the people who are coming into these towns might have been foreign born, but they have been in the U.S. for quite a while and sometimes are coming from neighboring states. What is happening is there's towns being left with just older people – they're aging in place – when their young leave. But in other situations where these immigrants are coming in, they’re literally sometimes compensating for the loss of the population, to the point there is stability in the population or in some cases it has grown because of the influx of immigrants.

McDermott: How did you go about getting multiple perspectives around these issues, affecting quality of life among ethnic minorities?

Maria de Guzman, an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies at UNL: We really wanted to get multiple views – not just you know from one angle for this issue – so we had three types of data collection. We did focus groups, we also did interviews of key informants across the communities that we were focused on. This included people who were leaders in the communities and those who had maybe some key information about the population of interest: people from the education sector and nonprofits, pastors and priests in those communities and then finally I guess the biggest chunk of the data that came from surveys of ethnic minorities in these communities.

McDermott: What have you heard early on from respondents? What are they saying?

De Guzman: In terms of what determines their quality of life and what is important for their life satisfaction and their satisfaction with their communities – in many ways it overlaps with the general population. So things like, they want good schools, they want good accommodations and housing – things for their children to do, cultural resources – general things that you would expect from anybody living in any community as to what's important. But in addition to that, there are also of course some unique things that may be experienced by this particular population. So, for example, one of the predictors that we found for quality of life was experiences of discrimination. Although a big chunk of the population – about 65 percent of those surveyed said they weren't really experiencing discrimination – which is great – about 12 percent said that they were experiencing that frequently, more than once a month, even up to weekly.

McDermott: Do you think recent flooding in Nebraska could impact any of these trends going forward, for example in an area like Columbus which saw extensive flooding?

De Guzman: That's a good question. I thought about that because we collected this data before that. That's a perfect example I think of why these kinds of questions are important, right? We know that the jobs are at the economics are going to be impacted like the farms are tremendously impacted – it's hard to tell – but in our data it’s showing that a lot of them are staying not just because of the jobs, but because of the sense of community and some of the things that we mentioned, it may be that the start to things that will keep them there. Aside from the jobs, I don't know what's going to happen to these jobs that they're having – a lot of them are in the meatpacking plants, for example, I think it remains to be seen how these things are going to play out.

Cantarero: If it affects the place of work, it might affect one of the main reasons they are there.

De Guzman: Some of the predictors that we found for whether they were satisfied with their quality of life – or one of the big chunks that predicted (satisfaction) -- was these individual level things. Like their ability to withstand stress was one of them and this is a very stressful situation – not just at the community level, but individual level.

McDermott: When ethnic minorities move into a smaller town, what are some of the disadvantages they would face compared to say if they move to Omaha or Lincoln?

Cantarero: Sometimes if the community is very small, you don't have sort of a critical mass. (Where you would) have friends and people to interact with, so you might feel too alone. You're more likely to find a network or familiar people to you, somebody that you can easily communicate with and be neighbors with, in the larger cities than you can some in some of the smaller towns. But we were surprised, too that, in the places we went to there was apparently a well-established community because there was a high proportion of people who we surveyed who said that they felt they had friends and people to reach out to and things like that, so that is definitely a positive thing.


The project was funded by the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute Research and Engagement Grant.

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