USU study aims to study COVID-19 impact on the rural west

LOGAN — Dr. Tom Mueller, an associate professor of sociology at Utah State University, is also one of the lead researchers on something called the Rural West COVID Project.

On KVNU’s For the People program last week, Dr. Mueller said that while this is only the first phase of the project, one of the things the study found was that people in rural areas hand the lowest grade in their opinion to their members of Congress.

“Yeah, and I think that’s pretty in line with what you would see nationally and even quite honestly, in other times besides the pandemic. Congress tends to be the easy, somewhat amorphous blob to blame.

“When we say Congress, if someone’s a Republican they might only think of Democrats. If they’re Democrats, they might only think of Republicans. But yeah, what we found is that over 60 percent of rural westerners disapprove with the Congressional response,” he explained.

“To compare…President Trump, for example, got pretty much about 40 percent for approved and disapproved. It was a little bit higher on approved in the rural west, which is what you would expect, but about 40 percent also disapproved. And then we found similarly balanced findings for state government and local government.”

Dr. Mueller was asked what his biggest takeaway was from looking into these rural communities being hit by a global pandemic.

“I think there were a couple things. We had some really interesting findings on the kind of material circumstances side of things, as well as on attitudes. So, on the material side, we found massive impacts to employment and unemployment. For instance, I believe it was a fifth, or so, of people who were full-time in 2019 weren’t at the time of our survey.

“And we actually saw an effect where a bunch of people who were full-time were now part-time. And a bunch of people who were part-time were now completely unemployed.

He said they looked at attitudes as well as to where people wanted the government to be putting money aside for relief. Dr. Mueller said they were really surprised to see that by and large people wanted increased spending in most areas and that this was bipartisan. Those wanting to view the first results of the survey for themselves can see it at covidruralwest.org.

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