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Life Not as Bad on South Dakota Reservations as in Appalachian Kentucky

The Nee York Times turns some socioeconomic statistics into a map of the quality of life in every county in the United States. Looking at "education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity," the Times calculates that much of South Dakota is in the top quarter of the nation's 3,135 counties. Lincoln County actually ranks 8th nationwide (if NYT included the impact of being Todd Epp's neighbor, Lincoln County would've made the top five).

Alas, the big islands of orange trouble amidst South Dakota's healthy blue on the NYT map are Indian Country. Shannon/Oglala Lakota County is not the worst in the nation, but it's down there, ranking 3,080 out of 3,135. That's still better than the ten worst counties by this measure, six of which are in eastern Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains and all ten of which are in the South.

But Oglala Lakota County likely would have come out worse with a closer look at unemployment. NYT says unemployment on Pine Ridge is 13.7%. Some would argue that 13.7% is closer to the employment rate, not the jobless rate, on Pine Ridge.

Whatever the actual numbers, the gross disparity between economic metrics in Indian Country and the rest of South Dakota should call the Legislature to action. Instead of fussing about who wrote which parts of science curriculum standards, legislators (especially those from districts with large Indian communities) should focus their attention on the number-one economic development problem in South Dakota: providing infrastructure, jobs, and better quality of life on Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and the rest of our Indian reservations.


  1. larry kurtz 2014.11.20

    Yeah, right: expect the legislature to make apartheid the state dessert.

  2. mike from iowa 2014.11.20

    Apartheid was good enuf for evan-devlical wingnut bloviators and Saint Ronnie Raygun. The Reverend Jerry Fatwell and Pat-my first son was conceived out of wedlock-Robertson thought suppressing Africa's Blacks was in line with jeebus' teachings.

  3. Nick Nemec 2014.11.20

    Where do they get these unemployment numbers? Lowballed numbers might discourage potential businesses from considering moving to the Reservation while real numbers might give a company confidence that they would be able to find enough employees. If they want employees with special skills an employer might consider a partnership with the local tribal college and fund training programs to train for the skills they are looking for.

  4. Joseph.Voigt 2014.11.20

    its the argument between unemployment and actual unemployment, to be classified as actually unemployed, you have had to have had a job, lost it and actively looking for a new job.

    I live on the rez in Arizona, and its close to 50%, if not higher. The issue here is many work off the reservation on construction crews or the railroad, and those that work on the reservation are either teachers, nurses, or are making very little.

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