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New Study: North Country Residents Say Pros Of Living There Outweigh Cons

Chris Jensen for NHPR

A new study from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire shows people living in rural northern New Hampshire and adjacent counties in Maine and Vermont hold increasingly positive views of life there, though they also agree that the lack of job opportunities, drug abuse, and population decline are important problems.  (Scroll down to read the full research report.)

For more on the study of life in rural northern New England we turn to Larry Hamilton, professor of sociology and a senior fellow at the Carsey School. He's one of the authors of the study.

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

So were there any big surprises for you in this study?

There are. This is focusing on the North Country, Coos County and also Grafton and nearby counties in Vermont and Maine, Essex and Oxford. And there are some people that are concerned that there are social problems there, particularly, opioid crisis comes up or issues with jobs, maybe population decline. There's some people that are concerned that situations are getting worse and people are pessimistic, and there are others who don't see that, who don't think that that overall, the quality of life or people's attitude towards it in the North Country has declined.

We had done previous surveys in 2007 and 2010 and had the idea of replicating that in 2017, and having this unique ten-year timeline on North Country public opinion.

In this study of public opinion you seemed to have found at least in part that people feel slightly better rather than worse about how they view their lives and their and their economic opportunities.

Exactly. The worst-case scenarios were not really supported by the data. There are significant problems and a few problems that people thought had gotten worse but overall they seemed pretty happy with the quality of life. What we really saw was there was a dip following the the recession of 2008, so that our 2010 survey picked up a lot of economic stress that was occurring around that time the North Country was hit hard by the 2008 recession and took a while recovering from it. But by the time of our survey this year, there had been some rebound on a lot of things and people by and large were pretty happy seemed to be pretty happy to be living where they are.

You spent some time looking closely at Coos County, so let me ask you about one area you focused on in Coos, which is civic culture and engagement. How do people in Coos generally feel about those things according to your research?

Well quite, quite positive really. We had four questions in particular that we that we looked at in that question. One was whether you agree that people here are willing to help their neighbors. And in all three of our surveys, above 90 percent in Coos County said, "people here are generally willing to help their neighbors."

That's pretty striking I suspect in a lot of urban and suburban areas. You might get people who wouldn't say that or even sure who their neighbors are. So that's certainly one thing.

Another question asked, "whether you agree that people generally trust and get along with each other."

And again, very high agreement - above 80% on all. Now where we're not so stellar was we had a question whether state and local government could deal effectively with the problems areas facing - and in none of our three surveys did that reach a majority. That may be partly their view of the state and local government, but it may partly be that they're talking about problems that are simply beyond the scale of what local or state government can deal with such as the price of gasoline or the global competition.

In 2017 you've found that 80% of class respondents expected to live in the area for the next five years. That proportion had not changed much since the most recent survey you did in 2010. Why do you think that is?

Well it's sort of a bellwether for whether whether people are planning to get out. And I think that there's an expectation that young people may go away to get education, jobs, or opportunities elsewhere. But that's paired with a hope that the young people will return. So apart from that sort of idea that maybe as a lifecycle step, people might go away but then come back. I think most of the people are looking at the pros and cons of living in the North Country and finding that the pros are weighing heavier.

Read the Carsey Research report:

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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