North Dakota/South Dakota Have 5 Of The Nation’s Top Ten Poorest Counties

Using US Census Data, MSN Money identified America’s top 15 poorest counties. In the top ten are four counties from South Dakota, and one from North Dakota:

#9 Corson County, SD
#7 Sioux County, ND
#3 Shannon County, SD
#2 Todd County, SD
#1 Ziebach County, SD

It’s surprising to see areas from North and South Dakota included on this list. North Dakota (thanks to hydraulic fracturing and a shale oil boom) and South Dakota (thanks to low taxes and limited government) are both national economic leaders. Both states have weathered the national recession quite well, so why are these areas so impoverished?

Setting aside very real problems in the way the federal government measures poverty, the one thing all of these counties have in common is that they have high concentrations of Native Americans being situated either on or near Indian reservations.

As the article notes, Native Americans have the highest rates of poverty of any ethnic group in America. But how can that be? Native Americans are supported more by the federal government than any other ethnic group.

They have an entire federal agency devoted to them – the Bureau of Indian Affairs – as well as their own government health care system, Indian Health Services, through which prescriptions and eye care and hospitalizations are all paid for courtesy of the taxpayer. They also have their own semi-autonomous political enclaves all around the United States, and a raft of federal benefits.

Huge amounts of federal money are spent on providing housing on the reservations, and depending on the Indian tribe, many Native Americans get direct government payments for violations of past treaties or the use of land. There are numerous other programs, often specific to certain tribes or regions, too numerous to mention here, and of course Native Americans can qualify for the same social programs (welfare, food stamps, heating/housing assistance, etc.) that all Americans are eligible for.

So how can a group of people who are living in the sort of entitlement state that the political left would have us believe is nirvana do so poorly economically speaking? It’s not the economy because overall both North Dakota and South Dakota have strong economies. It’s not a racial thing. Indians are as capable of prosperity as any other group of Americans. We could say that the reservations weren’t so much created for the benefit of the Indians as for the benefit of white settlers who wanted them out of the way of western expansion, but only takes us so far.

The only real difference between these Native American communities and America as a whole is that those communities live closer to the liberal ideal of government-run everything than the rest of the country.

Maybe, just maybe, all those government programs do more harm than good.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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