In fact, large portions of South Dakota, according to a recent study by the Rural Poverty Research Center, are labeled "persistent poverty counties."
Persistent poverty counties are those that have had poverty rates of 20 percent or higher in every decennial census between 1970 and 2000.
- 340 of the 386 (88 percent) persistently poor counties are nonmetro.
- 18 percent of nonmetro counties are persistent poverty counties, versus only 4 percent of metro counties.
- The nonmetro South, with over 40 percent of the U.S. nonmetro population, has a significantly higher incidence of poverty. Eighty two percent of the nonmetro persistently poor counties are in the South.
- And, sadly, according to a map of the United States which casts a blue shade on the poorest rural counties, significant portions of South Dakota – mainly Native American reservations, are colored in.
The fact that, in wonky election terms, so much of South Dakota is a "blue" state in terms of poverty is a source of little pride.
Don't leap to the mistaken conclusion that rural poor only strikes minorities on the reservations or in the South. Over 60 percent of the non-urban poor in this country are white.
Monica Fisher, who has been researching the causes of rural poor, has revealed some things about our very society here in rural areas, such as South Dakota, that are difficult to refute.
Reasons for a high number of rural poor in our state include a mix of these factors:
- People who live here find limited economic opportunities.
- Some of the people who choose to live here do so because they lack the education, skills or personal ability to succeed economically in metro areas.
We could be in for a big change in our part of the state should Hyperion Resources, Inc. choose to build an oil refinery in Union County. Economic leaders, noting South Dakota always can use more opportunities for its citizens, naturally see this refinery as a progressive move.
To many of the people who live nearby, a refinery, or energy center, or whatever you choose to call it, will, in their view, bring an end to the good life they've enjoyed in the southeastern corner of the state.
As we grapple with these issues, waiting for Hyperion's decision, there are steps we can take to improve the overall quality of life in South Dakota.
We must maintain a social safety net for elders, the disabled, those between jobs and those who cannot fend for themselves.
In today's economy, a college degree is essential to greater economic stability. We've read the press releases from the state Board of Regents telling us what a good bargain higher education, specifically in terms of tuition and others fees, is for our students.
In South Dakota, however, we wouldn't be surprised if a larger than average number of families find the cost of sending their children to college to be especially burdensome.
It's time, we believe, for the state Legislature to give more attention to student loan forgiveness for young people willing to seek their careers in rural communities in South Dakota.
Fisher notes in her study that in places of persistent poverty, such as South Dakota's reservations, programs and grants to boost education and job skills seem a logical way to break the chains of poverty.
She adds, however, that local conditions – whether that be geographic isolation or a one-industry town – can impede those efforts by sapping motivation from those growing up in rural areas to get more education.
These are all things we must consider if we hope to improve our quality of life in South Dakota.