ZIEBACH COUNTY, S.D. — In the barren grasslands of Ziebach County, there’s almost nothing harder to find in winter than a job. This is America’s poorest county, where more than 60 percent of people live at or below the poverty line.
At a time when the weak economy is squeezing communities across the nation, recently released census figures show that nowhere are the numbers as bad as here – a county with 2,500 residents, most of them Cheyenne River Sioux Indians living on a reservation.
In the coldest months of the year, when seasonal construction work disappears and the South Dakota prairie freezes, unemployment among the Sioux can hit 90 percent.
Poverty has loomed over this land for generations. Repeated attempts to create jobs have run into stubborn obstacles: the isolated location, the area’s crumbling infrastructure, a poorly trained population and a tribe that struggles to work with businesses or attract investors.