Understanding Rural Quality of Life in an Era of
The rural Midwest has experienced dramatic changes in health and social well-being over the past decade. There is an immediate need to understand the socioeconomic, health, and emotional impacts of COVID-19 in understudied rural communities, especially in hard-hit meatpacking towns dominated by PoC. There is also a need to better understand how rural quality of life (QoL) is maintained in the face of sizable population loss; and how small towns can promote social integration and cohesion between long-time residents and new persons of color (PoC). The long-term goal of this integrated research and extension project is to identify and disseminate effective place-based strategies to maintain QoL in small towns impacted by demographic changes and COVID. Our project addresses AFRI (A1661) priorities of providing essential services like health and mental health, retaining businesses for a robust local economy, and addressing labor shortages and skill gaps. Our project gives voice to often marginalized PoC in meatpacking towns to better inform rural policy. Improving QoL, integration, and COVID recovery will help small towns thrive in the 21st century.
The five main objectives of the project are to: (1) establish a stakeholder advisory panel and engage with study communities; (2) conduct a large-scale social survey across 125 small communities for the 2024 wave of the longitudinal Iowa Small Towns Project using mixed-mode techniques to better engage PoC; (3) understand the impact of demographic transitions and COVID on rural QoL, especially in diverse meatpacking towns; (4) identify effective local responses to improve rural QoL and COVID recovery using interviews; and (5) develop and disseminate extension curricula to improve rural resiliency and recovery.