By Marnie Werner, VP of Research & Operations
We are officially in a new fiscal year here at the Center for Rural Policy and Development and with it comes a new research agenda. The list of issues to research in rural Minnesota seems never-ending and unfortunately, we only have so many hours in the day. That’s why we conduct an annual survey asking our thought leaders—around 3,000 people we interact with through our research, our newsletter, and other ways—to help us prioritize what we should be paying attention each year.
Every spring, we assemble a list of research questions and ask our thought leaders whether each issue is urgent, important but not urgent, or not important. This kind of weighting then helps us see the priorities of folks around the state.
The results of this year’s survey came as little surprise to those with families, in education or healthcare. Mental health, childcare and care-giving for our aging population scored high, as did housing. The table below shows the top issues and how the 313 survey respondents scored them. These eight issues will form the core of our research for the 2024 fiscal year (July 2023 to June 2024), and we have already started working on them. Check our web site regularly at ruralmn.org to track when we finish our reports or simply sign up for our newsletter to be notified when our new research comes out.
Mental health: A growing number of children and youth are reporting mental health symptoms, especially after the pandemic. What is the level of access to mental health services for teenagers and children in rural MN, especially overnight services?
Mental health & suicide: The “deaths of despair” phenomenon is causing a reduction in life expectancy across America. What are they, and how do they impact rural and urban Minnesota differently? Will include a discussion on farmer suicides.
Childcare: Greater MN is much more dependent on in-home family childcare than center-based childcare providers, so the great drop-off in numbers of family providers has hit rural areas hard. How do we strengthen and build the family childcare field, especially in rural areas?
Childcare: There is a shortage of childcare everywhere in Greater Minnesota, but even more so for those working second and third shifts and for children with special needs. What policies would help with this situation?
The economics of care-giving: As rural areas enter a new era of high demand for elder care, do we have a system that is ready for it? What is the rate of nursing home and memory care closures in rural Minnesota, and what is the ripple effect for families and communities?
Healthcare: What are the impacts of hospital or clinic closures on access to healthcare for rural residents? How does access change after a hospital or clinic closes?
Housing cycle: As rural populations continue to age, the demand for appropriate housing will increase. What is the current stock of appropriate housing for this cohort and what will it take to meet the demand over the next 10 to 20 years?
Housing: What are the particularly rural nuances of the barriers to finding stable/affordable housing in Greater Minnesota?