Ziebach County on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in northwest South Dakota retained its infamous title as the poorest county in America in 2009, according to a new Census Bureau report released this week.
In Ziebach County, 62 percent of its 2,552 residents live in poverty. The rate of children younger than 18 in the county was even higher — 76.7 percent. In the Midwest region, the seven poorest counties are in South Dakota, and two others — Bennett and Dewey counties — also made the list of the 30 Midwest counties with the highest poverty rates.
“It’s a pretty harsh thing to have to digest,” Julie Garreau, director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, said of Ziebach’s dubious distinction. “I suppose you could let those figures get you down, but there’s a difference between being impoverished and being poor.”
About half of the population of the Cheyenne River reservation is younger than 18, so many of those underprivileged children come through her doors every day.
A Colorado county was the second poorest in the U.S., but Shannon County on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was third on the list, where more than 51 percent of all people live below the poverty level, along with 57 percent of children under 18.
Other South Dakota counties with child poverty rates well above the national average of 18.2 percent were Todd County (57 percent); Jackson County (52 .7 percent); Mellette County (52.7 percent); Corson County (52.6 percent); and Buffalo County (51.5 percent).
Garrreau said it was unacceptable for the rest of South Dakota to dismiss the poverty rates of seven counties in western South Dakota as a “reservation” problem.