Measuring the Quality of Life in Rural Areas

Good jobs, access to critical services, strong communities, and a healthy environment – how available are they in rural America

The key to quality of life is the ability to enjoy it. Few doubt that rural areas provide an enormous opportunity for quality of life amenities, but are we able to enjoy them like we should?

According to USDA research, the four key measures to quality of life in rural areas are:

- The availability of good-paying jobs
- Access to critical services, such as education and health care
- Strong communities
- A healthy natural environment

But these measures paint a picture that doesn’t always exist in rural areas. Let’s break them down and see the real picture. The first is availability of good-paying jobs. In rural areas this is not always the case. Many people travel several miles to work at a job that provides a living wage.

The second measure is access to critical services. How many times do we hear the word consolidation of services to provide better care or education for our residents? The result is often denied access for those unable to travel the distance to get the needed services.

The third measure paints the picture of strong communities. This may be one of the harshest of all of the measures as we become bedroom communities to other towns. Our very infrastructure in small rural communities is under attack due to lack of leadership and capacity to be a strong community.

The final measure is healthy and natural environments. This is where rural residents take great pride over our urban brothers and sisters. We know our environmental amenities far outweigh the city, or do they? A recent letter to the newspaper described a farm located next to a consolidated animal feeding operation (CAFO). The resident’s water was so full of nitrates, they were spending thousands of dollars to make sure they could drink safely.

In the next few months I will examine each of these measures and give examples of communities that are succeeding in providing quality of life for their residents. I will also look at methods and ways to provide a better quality of life for all of us who live in rural areas and want to continue to live there.

Contact: Michael L. Holton, michaellh@cfra.org or call 402.687.2103 x 1020 for more information on community development.

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