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Golis: Hard times in rural counties

  • Pedestrians cross Main Street in Yreka, which would be part of the new state of Jefferson if Siskiyou County supervisors succeed in seceding from California. (JEFF CHIU / Associated Press, 2010)

In Siskiyou County, the Board of Supervisors last week declared its intention to secede from the state of California and form the 51st state in the union. The 44,000 residents of this rural, sparsely populated county on the Oregon border would become residents of the new state of Jefferson.

If you think this is a futile and silly gesture, if you think these folks are in denial about what it costs to run a state, you might be right.

But the anger and frustration in Siskiyou County speak to circumstances that deserve some attention from the other 38 million Californians.

In many rural counties, these are tough times — defined by chronic unemployment, low wages, high rates of poverty, declining public services, social distress, lack of access to health care and pessimism about the future.

(In Siskiyou County, the unemployment rate is 12.9 percent, which is only good if you recall that it's down from 20 percent in 2011.)

On Thursday, Staff Writer Mary Callahan reported that the average death rate in Lake County is almost twice the state average — a grim reflection of “socioeconomic conditions that have many residents living on the margins.”

In matters of health, Lake County suffers from high rates of smoking, excessive drinking, people who are overweight, drug abuse and accidents, plus a shortage of medical providers. It also suffers from higher rates of poverty and unemployment (12 percent now, 19.1 percent in 2010).

The small numbers of voters in Siskiyou, Lake and other rural counties translate into a lack of political influence in a big, populous state like California — but that doesn't excuse the rest of us from being concerned about their well-being. We ought to care about improving their prospects.

Whenever times are tough, people tend to look for someone to blame. In Siskiyou County, they've decided that government regulation is the culprit.

SiskiyouDaily.com quoted one secession proponent: “We do appreciate the county board of supervisors knowing that our economy is really poor here. We're having a terrible time for a lot of reasons, and the biggest reason is over-regulating.”

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