[imgcontainer left] [img:PovMap.jpeg] [source]Daily Yonder[/source] New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote this morning that poverty was a general problem in the Great Plains, as well as being epidemic in counties dominated by Indian reservations. This map shows poverty rates in rural counties. Blue counties have rates below the national average. Outside the reservation counties in South Dakota where Kristof is reporting, the Great Plains have low poverty rates. Click on the map to see a much larger version. [/imgcontainer]

A study from Finland finds that kids who grow up in rural areas are less likely to develop allergies. Here’s the study. 

The authors find that declining biodiversity “may be a contributing factor to another global megatrend—the rapidly increasing prevalence of allergies and other chronic inflammatory diseases among urban populations worldwide.” Reduced contact with the natural environment results in a poorer immune system.

But children raised in rural areas are exposed to a “broader array of friendly microbes, which may protect their bodies against allergies, asthma and other inflammatory diseases,” reports the Minnesota Post. 

“We are proposing that contact of people, particularly children, with the natural environment and biodiversity could be really important for the development of the immune system,” one of the researchers said.

• Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, visited Shannon County, South Dakota, and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Shannon has the lowest per capita income in the U.S. and Kristof recounts the poverty in that part of South Dakota — the amazingly high unemployment, alcoholism, lack of education or skills, the inert economy. 

We’re thankful any time a reporter goes to a rural community and does real reporting. Read his column. 

One paragraph in Kristof’s column struck us as strange, however. He’s listing the problems in Shannon County. Alcoholism is one. Second, he writes that “reservations are often structured in ways that discourage private investment.” Tribal lands are held collectively, which causes outside investors some concern.

Finally, he writes that “the arid lands here just can’t support many people. Rural areas throughout the great plains states, including those with overwhelmingly white populations, are losing inhabitants and are also among the poorest in the country.”

We don’t know about how many people can survive on the Great Plains and many of these counties are losing population. But are there counties “throughout the great plains states” that are “also among the poorest in the country”?

Not that we know of. In January, we ran a couple of maps and a list of rural counties with the highest poverty rates. Indeed, the South Dakota counties with Indian reservations rank high in poverty. 

But if you look at the map above (and click on it if you want to see a giant version), you’ll see that the Great Plains are the bright spot. (Except for the red counties in South Dakota, which are the reservation areas Kristof is writing about.) Blue means the county has poverty rates below the national average. Most of the plains counties have poverty rates below the national average. The Great Plains are a swath of blue.

And the plains are where poverty has been rising below the national average — or even declining.

Yes, the plains counties (many of the them, though not all) are losing people. But in terms of poverty and wages, the Great Plains are a bright spot. 

Just not at Pine Ridge.

• No doubt, the boom in oil and natural gas drilling in parts of the country is creating jobs.

In South Texas, in the Eagle Ford shale field, oil and gas drilling supported 48,000 jobs as 1,700 wells were at work last year. Oil production in the area is up more than six-fold since 2010 and gas production has doubled.

The study was done by the University of Texas at San Antonio. Researchers there had a bit of caution for the communities caught up on the boom.

“The thing we’re stressing to communities is sustainability,” said Thomas Tunstall, the lead author and director of the university’s Center for Community and Business Research. “What will they be left with when this is all over? It’s not just a matter of how much oil and gas is out there.”

•Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee (or all but) Mitt Romney was in Colorado yesterday pitching energy policy. 

“I recognize that what you’re seeing in terms of growth in the energy sector is happening in places like this,” Romney said at an oil drilling firm. “We have energy resources in this country, and we have to take advantage of them.”

• The National Journal is pointing out that “many rural, heavily African-American counties that strongly supported Obama in the 2008 contest overwhelmingly backed the gay marriage ban” in North Carolina. The Journal goes on:

In Hertford County, which is over 60 percent African-American, Obama won 70 percent of the vote in 2008 but it voted heavily for Amendment 1 (3,817 yes votes; 1,627 no votes).

In Bertie County, the most African-American county in the state (over 62 percent), Obama garnered over 65 percent of the vote. But a whopping 73 percent of the county’s voters supported the constitutional amendment.

The seven counties that opposed the amendment were urban centers, most featuring large college campuses.

• The Kansas House approved $3.7 billion in tax cuts over the next five years. The vote was 64 to 59. The vote will leave the state with a $2 billion deficit by 2017. 

• The drought in Minnesota has broken.

Earlier this year, 96 percent of the state was in drought. With rains, that has been reduced to 10 percent. 

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