A recent study uncovered deep concerns in rural Northwest Missouri on issues ranging from poverty and a lack of health care resources to a shortage of volunteer leaders.
The Missouri Survey 2017 combined the efforts of the Missouri Rural Development Partners with University of Missouri Extension, the Missouri Department of Economic Development, University of Missouri Division of Applied Social Sciences, and state Office of Rural Development.
In the survey’s executive summary, the responses were considered a plea for help to fix issues that stymie rural growth. One person taking the survey even replied: “Please help!”
“It reflects the concern that many respondents have about the future of their community and their recognition that they need guidance and assistance to find a new path forward,” the summary stated.
Population and job losses were a common concern. Other key themes included the economy and workforce issues. Almost 70 percent of the respondents indicated a belief that poverty has increased in their community over the past decade.
“In fact, poverty has increased in Missouri since 2007,” the study stated, with the state’s overall rate increasing to 14 percent from 13.3 percent between 2007 and 2016.
Those participating in the survey also said they think there is a shortage of jobs paying a living wage.
“Rural Missouri has higher poverty rates and lower incomes than the rest of the state,” the study added.
Another important issue with both St. Joseph and Northwest Missouri is workforce quality as it relates to economic development.
For example, nearly a quarter of those answering the survey expressed an unawareness of workforce development needs, while almost one-fifth said they had no opinion on whether there were sufficient job training opportunities.
Almost 60 percent expressed a belief there weren’t enough resources being invested locally in business development.
Almost two-thirds replied that there aren’t enough volunteers and leaders in their communities. About 20 percent said they did not know about volunteer opportunities.
Fears were relayed about local governments’ financial ability to maintain infrastructure.
“This finding is not a surprise as we witness firsthand deteriorating infrastructure and hear stories about communities’ inability to support, much less improve, existing infrastructure,” the report said.
Access to broadband was labeled another significant concern among counties. About 42 percent indicated that access to the Internet was a problem, which survey authors considered lower than expected.
Affordable housing was mentioned in the survey, with an increasing portion of residents choosing rentals and expressing fears over the costs of rentals.
One-third of those who answered the surveys said they felt health services were not affordable in their communities.
“The opioid crisis is shining a bright light on the access to mental health and treatment resources,” officials said. “Survey responses indicate these resources are missing from most Missouri communities.”
Associated Electric Cooperatives, Missouri Municipal League, Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Community Betterment assisted with developing, distributing and promoting the survey.
Max Summers, a board member with the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri, said the results will be useful to the organization.
“I thought the survey was very useful in identifying issues the people were most concerned about,” he said. “Tracking these issues over time, as currently planned, is most valuable because it will identify both improvements and declines in issues of most concern to the people. We will use it to understand the perceptions and issues of concern to the rural areas.”
The survey included Atchison, Holt, Worth, Gentry, Harrison, Daviess, Mercer, Grundy and Livingston counties as areas fitting the rural classification
A link to the complete study can be found at www.extension2.missouri.edu/programs/exceed-community-economic-and-entrepreneurial-development.