Why ethnic minorities move to rural communities and whether they stay is becoming increasingly important as rural populations across the country decline.
Approximately two-thirds of the 93 counties in Nebraska have had decreases in their populations in the last decade. For some of these counties, the population decline has been occurring for longer.
An influx of immigrants and ethnic minorities has helped many rural communities survive and thrive. However, little is known about the specific factors that affect non-majority residents’ well-being and their decision to move or stay, said Maria de Guzman, associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“There's a big gap in research about which factors define quality of life for ethnic minorities in rural communities,” said de Guzman, principal investigator for a research study exploring those factors.
Good jobs, housing and education are important to everyone, regardless of ethnicity, she said. “But we wanted to identify additional, specific factors important to ethnic groups in smaller communities.”
Quality of life can include objective indicators of well-being, such as health and income, but it can also include subjective assessments of personal well-being, including emotional health, stress levels and resilience,” said Rodrigo Cantarero, associate professor of Community and Regional Planning and co-principal investigator.
Data from this study indicates that while ethnic minorities may move to a community for jobs, whether they stay is based on a variety of subjective factors, including whether
- They feel a sense of community and belonging
- There are activities for families, especially the children
- There are cultural resources
- They experience discrimination.
One of the study's findings was that the frequency and experiences of discrimination affect minorities' quality of life and sense of well-being. “This is not surprising, but we are documenting a correlation between their experiences of discrimination and how it affects their sense of well-being and intentions to stay in the community,” De Guzman said.
The research was conducted in Madison, Platte, Dakota and Scotts Bluff counties in Nebraska. It included interviews with stakeholders and decision-makers considered knowledgeable about the county's ethnic minorities, as well as focus groups and surveys of more than 650 self-identified ethnic minorities.
“Minorities can enrich the lives of everyone in rural communities. They also can provide an economic boost,” Cantarero said. “Identifying cultural, environmental, social and other factors that rural minorities consider essential can help develop educational tools for people serving those groups.”
As community leaders, educators, policymakers and planners contemplate how to address the needs of rural communities, “they need to take into account the potentially unique experiences of their ethnic minorities,” de Guzman added.
In addition to de Guzman and Cantarero, the research team includes Evan Choi, associate professor of Child, Youth and Family Studies; Soo-Young Hong, associate professor of Child, Youth and Family Studies; Yan Ruth Xia, professor of Child, Youth and Family Studies; and Nebraska Extension educators Jill Goedeken, Jackie Guzman and Lee Sherry.
The University of Nebraska Rural Futures Institute funded the project. More information about this study can be found at culturalcompetence.unl.edu/research-publications.