Saturday, February 19, 2011

Zieback County the poorest county in the US

A county is South Dakota made  headlines across the world this week. Ziebach County made news because of its persistent poverty which claims over 60 percent of the population. The unemployment rate soars even further during the winter to over to 90 percent. That is because the economy is mostly construction jobs and during the harsh winters a lot of those workers are laid off. Even during the summer, there is not enough work or business for most of the people.

From the UKs Daily Mail, we find out more about Zieback County.

‘Many, many people make these grand generalizations about our communities and poverty and ”Why don't people just do something, and how come they can't?”’ said Eileen Briggs, executive director of Tribal Ventures, a development group started by the tribe. ‘It's much more complicated than that.’

The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, created in 1889, consists almost entirely of agricultural land in Ziebach and neighbouring Dewey County. It has no casino and no oil reserves or available natural resources.

Most towns in Ziebach County are just clusters of homes between cattle ranches. Families live in dilapidated houses or run-down trailers. Multi-coloured patches of siding show where repairs were made as cheaply as possible.

Families fortunate enough to have leases to tribal land can make money by raising cattle. Opportunities are scarce for almost everyone else.

The few people who have jobs usually have to drive up to 80 miles to tribal headquarters. The nearest major population centres are Rapid City and Bismarck, each a trip of 150 miles or more.

Basic services can be vulnerable. The tribe's primary health clinic doesn't have a CT scanner or a maternity ward. An ice storm last year knocked out power and water in places for weeks. And in winter, the gravel roads that connect much of the reservation can become impassable with snow and ice.

Nearly six decades after the reservation was created, the federal government began building a dam on the Missouri River, but the project caused flooding that washed away more than 100,000 acres of Indian land. After the flooding, the small town of Eagle Butte became home to the tribal headquarters and the centre of the reservation's economy.

‘There are things that have happened to us over many, many generations that you just can't fix in three or four years,’ said Kevin Keckler, the tribe's chairman. ‘We were put here by the government, and we had a little piece of land and basically told to succeed here.’

But prosperity never came. The county has been at or near the top of the poverty rankings for at least a decade. In 2009, the census defined poverty as a single person making less than $11,000 a year or a family of four making less than $22,000 a year.

Eagle Butte has few businesses and the handful that do exist struggle to stay afloat. The town has just one major grocery store, the Lakota Thrifty Mart, which is owned by the tribe. There's also a Dairy Queen, a Taco John's and a handful of small cafes. There's no bowling alley, no cinema.

No comments: