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Friday, December 4, 2009

Midwest and Plains Better Off Than Other Rural Areas

Mke Knutson expresses his sentiment that rural America hasn't enjoyed the same economic propserity as the rest of the country. He also notes some alarm over the possibility that rural America could lose out as states cut budgets for rural-oriented projects like extension programs.

Economically speaking, maybe things aren't all bad here in rural South Dakota. A recent study by Professor Andrew Isserman of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign finds that Midwest and Plains states have more "prosperous" rural counties than other parts of the U.S.A.

Click to enlarge!
Image credit: Andrew Isserman, Edward Feser, Drake Warren,
University of Illinois; via LiveScience.com.

Check out that dark arm of prosperity starting in South Dakota's cute little southeast goatee and arcing gracefully up through Lake County (and not Brookings—ha!) and out through Pierre. I guess we're better off than we thought, right?

Alas, the data used in this study comes from 2000, so it doesn't cover our recent sputtering. But the study is still noteworthy in approaching "prosperity" from a perspective slightly different from the norm:

The study did not define community success in terms of the traditional measures of growth in population, employment and income, according to Andrew Isserman, an economist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of the paper. Instead, it focused on outcomes: Do communities keep their kids in school? Are their unemployment and poverty rates low? Are housing conditions good and the folks healthy? [staff, "Rural America Surprisingly Prosperous, Study Finds," LiveScience.com, 2009.12.02]

Isserman found that the more prosperous counties tended to have fewer farm jobs, more education, less income inequality, and slower population growth. Hmmm... maybe the LAIC should retool its Forward Madison goals....

Update 2009.12.04 16:35 CST: Mike Knutson offers more thoughts on this study and other data at Reimagine Rural!


  1. So the yellow counties in South Dakota represent those who the most dependent on the government.

  2. So more dependency on the gov't equates with a lower standard of living and all its attendant problems. I think we can all agree on that one (except the great O, of course, who wants more gov't dependency and a lower standard of living for everyone!) Instead of Obama's quest to bring everyone down to a certain level economically, wouldn't it be better if he instead strived to bring everyone UP?

  3. Hold the phone here: what data supports that contention, Linda? Do you seriously believe that government dependency is the only factor holding the reservation counties back from prosperity? Nothing in this study says that; that's you and Steve imposing your wished-for worldview without warrant on the data.

    There are several logical steps you would have to make to support the hypothesis you are proposing. First, you would have to demonstrate that the broad swath of rural counties in the South meeting fewer prosperity criteria are more dependent on government than more prosperous counties elsewhere. You would then have to demonstrate that that dependence really is the cause of their flagging prsoperity and not other factors. You might even have to grapple with some reverse causality: it could be that other factors (economic shifts? racism? lack of natural resources? others?) caused the lack of prosperity, and that lack of prosperity caused the government to intervene with more resources. Maybe lack of prosperity causes government action, which then looks to you like government dependence.

  4. I am not a skilled debater, but that does not mean that my assertions are incorrect. Reservations and reservation mentality need to be gotten rid of, in that order. No more separate laws on the reservations that inhibit economic growth. No more handouts simply based on race or location. No more empty promises by the Dems to keep the Native American's vote but with subsequent lack of any improvement in quality of life on the reservations after the elections.

    Bring the Native Americans into essentially full citizenship and participation in the US by getting rid of the separate nation within a nation philosophy. As it stands now, businesses are hampered by separate laws on the reservations. And the people are hampered by the dependency fostered by the federal gov't which has destroyed their self-esteem and pride. Bring that back, and those sections of the state would be better off.

    I agree that the reservation land is not as good as some other areas. But that doesn't mean that other types of businesses cannot flourish there. I doubt many of the native Americans till the soil in those areas anyway. But the Native Americans have to step up to the plate and develop pride in a good work ethic also. A sense of personal responsibility has declined on the reservation, IMO mostly due to the gov't dependency over the years.

  5. I'm getting ready to discount any argument that begins with, "I'm not a skilled debater." It's kind of like starting a speech by saying, "I'm not a public speaker": you seem to denigrate the very skills you need to make your point.

    Yes, a "skilled debater" uses logic and evidence to substantiate her point. What you are really saying is, "I'm not capable of (or willing to?) use logic and evidence."

    I asked for evidence to support the claim you are making. Instead, you go off on more of your wishful thinking. You wish a certain hypothesis were true, but you refuse to answer the logical questions you must investigate to determine whether that hypothesis is true. You just keep clinging to it, telling yourself a story that feels good but doesn't answer the hard questions.

    The questions remain:

    (1) Are the counties in the South more dependent on government than the prosperous counties up North?

    (2) If that disparity in dependence exists, is it the cause of the lack of prosperity?

    And remember, if your thesis is true, then South Dakota as a whole should be less prosperous, since we are a welfare state, getting $1.53 back from Uncle Sam for every $1 we pay in taxes.


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