Recent state reports point to need for better resources for addiction, medical services and child care

By Michael Haubner and Ariana Wilson

Throughout Minnesota, a disproportionate number of rural families struggle to meet their basic needs, such as child care and medical services.

That’s the conclusion of a new report published earlier this year by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs that finds basic but necessary resources in rural communities are declining in quality and quantity. Access to medical care is increasingly limited, affecting the very wellbeing of rural workers, the report found.

Students at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities from rural areas say they understand these realities first-hand.

“There’s one of each of those things,” said Sage Ellen, a senior studying strategic communications from Cambridge, Minn., which has a population of around 8,800. When it comes to any sort of resource, even grocery stores, she says, “there’s only one option.”

Recent reports have pointed to other deficits as well. Earlier this month, an article in the Star Tribune noted that nearly half of Minnesota’s 87 counties lack addiction treatment facilities to address the opioid epidemic — with rural areas showing the greatest need

The Humphrey report also found that rural families face more stress over taking time off to care for children or family members in need.

More than 50 percent of workers in rural communities reported they would most likely encounter problems within the workplace if they took time off without being paid, according to the report. By contrast, 40 percent of urban workers reported they would face problems.

And even when rural workers do decide to take time off without pay, their employers were unlikely to find workers to cover for the lost productivity – and so suffered themselves.

“My parents own their own businesses, and it is hard finding qualified employees,” said Emalee Larson, a senior studying entrepreneurial management and studies in cinema and media culture from rural South Dakota. “They try to be accommodating when their employees need time off so they don’t lose the employees, but it can make their own lives harder.”  

Larson, who is from Chamberlain, South Dakota, home to approximately 2,400 people, said she also has first-hand experience with the report’s conclusion that rural areas have fewer and declining options for childcare programs, elder care, and disabilities resources than urban areas – especially in less populated towns.