Between the Lines: South Dakota youth: A vital investment

A couple weeks ago, I commented on this page, in a column with the headline �Why would anyone want to live here?� that South Dakota, because of its standing as having the lowest tax collections in the nation last year, has become a haven for people of retirement age.

It was, admittedly, a satirical jab at trends that are occurring in our state right now. The Legislature and our governor have announced, �mission accomplished,� trumpeting the 10 percent across the board cut to the budgets of a majority of state programs. In other words, they made ends meet this year not by implementing progressive reform in South Dakota�s highly regressive tax system, combined with wise spending of our tax dollars.

They merely shifted the financial burden to our youth.

I don�t think it can be argued that our local bodies of government, especially our school board and county commission, have never been in a mode when they have not conducted �wise spending.� They�ve been forced to make ends meet year after year, somehow meeting a growing list of demands with a limited, and, especially in the terms of our school district, shrinking amount of financial resources.

I find it distressing that the cuts are affecting programs that serve to try to brighten the future for our state�s young people. Education, for example � both K-12 and our regental system of state universities, including USD. And the state�s Extension program, which makes it possible for counties across South Dakota, including Clay County, to hold their own Achievement Days as part of the county fair experience leading up to the State Fair.

I must admit I was a in a bit of funk when I pondered in my column of two weeks back the reasons for living here, so the sarcasm was flowing at a heavy rate. My wife and I find ourselves missing a great deal of entertainment offered to us free of charge, especially during the summer months.

For the past three years or so we have enjoyed the antics of the three young boys who lived in the big house directly across the street from ours.

They no longer scamper across the street onto our yard at times, ringing our doorbell. One time I answered the door to find one of the toe-headed three amigos on my front steps.

�Could you make us a pie?� he asked.

He was SO serious. But hey, this was during the summer, he and his brothers had been playing hard and no doubt were hungry, and I somehow kept a straight face while telling my young neighbor that I�d never baked one and I�m sure if I did, he wouldn�t want to eat it.

�Oh,� he replied. And just like that, in a blur of blonde hair, he zipped across the street to join his brothers in their latest adventure.

This young Vermillion family, who welcomed a fourth addition to their family late last year � yet another boy � has moved to North Dakota where opportunity beckons.

My wife and I are now forced to stare at the For Sale sign in the empty house�s front lawn.

Hence, my somewhat surly mood a couple weeks ago.

I�m not ready to give up on South Dakota, however, and neither is my wife. We were both born and raised in this state, growing up a mere 30 miles from each other. We feel well grounded here, despite the fact that, while the Sioux Falls area seems to be growing like crazy, nearly every other area of the state simply holds its own.

And there is a bit of good news. According to a recent Associated Press-Viacom poll of Americans ages 18 to 24, an overwhelming majority of this age group say they�re happy with their lives. In fact, their level of happiness exceeds those of older folks who participate in similar surveys.

A majority expects to have a harder time buying a house and saving for retirement than their parents did. More than 4 in 10 predict it will be tougher to raise a family and afford the lifestyle they want. Only about a fourth expect things to be easier for them than the previous generation � a cherished goal of many hardworking parents.

Young people, it seems, provide the one thing that�s never in too much supply, even in a homespun, folksy state like South Dakota.

They offer hope. It�s why investing in our youth is so vital now.

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