A particularly cruel S.D. trend

A particularly cruel S.D. trend By the Plain Talk We South Dakotans lament.

We bemoan how one of our best products on the export market is our youth.

We�ve demonstrated that we�re terribly good at educating our high school and college students.

But once they get their diplomas, they are easily beckoned away, by communities in other states that offer more opportunities and higher wages.

It�s not easy to watch South Dakota communities erode as young people pull up roots and leave. This demographic trend caused by a lack of opportunity in our state, however, is proving to be particularly cruel.

Sociologists have been studying the price our country has been paying while fighting the war in Iraq. They�re discovering that small rural counties have a death rate nearly twice that of counties that have the same population but happen to be part of metropolitan areas.

In other words, a statistical analysis of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq shows that this may be America�s war, but it is being fought by only a part of America.

Those who have lost their lives there were 39 percent more likely than the nation as a whole to live in counties with fewer than 100,000 people. They were 16 percent more likely than the nation as a whole to live in a county with lower-than-average levels of college education and 16 percent more likely to live in counties with below-average incomes.

Why is this happening?

According to Robert Cushing a retired University of Texas sociologist, and Bill Bishop, a reporter for The Austin (TX) American-Statesman, it�s not that Iraqi insurgents are singling out rural soldiers, or that commanders are putting them at particular risk.

Rather, the armed forces themselves must be disproportionately drawn from rural communities � a fact not immediately discernible from recruitment data, which report the race, age and education of recruits, but not their home counties.

In other words, the recruits come from rural, small-town U.S.A. They fit the description of young South Dakotans who paddle against current demographic trends and try to make a life for themselves in their home state.

This is above all an economics story, according to Cushing and Bishop. Military studies consistently find that a poor economy is a boon to recruiting. The higher rate of deaths from rural counties likely reflects sparse opportunities for young people in those places.

There are efforts underway to try to change that trend. Most notably, Gov. Rounds� 2010 Initiative has set several progressive goals designed to beef up the state�s economy over the next five years, and, in the process, provide more opportunities.

Rounds hopes to increase South Dakota�s GSP (Gross State Product) by $10 billion by 2010, in part by promoting the creation and development of new businesses that will contribute $6 billion to the GSP.

The remaining $4 billion of that $10 billion goal would come from promoting the growth/expansion of existing businesses that will contribute $4 billion to the GSP.

There are no guarantees that these goals will be achieved, however. And even if they are a lead-pipe cinch, they are several years in the making.

This week, we honor Army Staff Sgt. Jason Wayne Montefering of Parkston, a member of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment from Ft. Carson, CO, who died July 24, while on his second tour in Iraq.

This morning, we read headlines that are becoming too familiar. A Marine amphibious assault vehicle patrolling during combat operations in the Euphrates River valley hit a roadside bomb Wednesday, killing 14 Marines from the same Ohio battalion that lost six men two days earlier. It was the single deadliest roadside bombing of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Last week, Iraq�s transitional prime minister called for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops and the top U.S. commander in Baghdad said he believed a �fairly substantial� pullout could begin next spring and summer.

Let�s hope both men are correct. Otherwise, rural America, including South Dakota, could lose many more young women and men.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net.

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