Boom and Bust in Montana and Beyond
In the last few days I’ve run across a few articles I think Montanans should read. The first is a piece from National Geographic, titled Bakken Oil Boom Brings Growing Pains to Small Montana Town. Here is an excerpt:
On a recent evening, as Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Deputy Avis Ball patrolled near Bainville, she pointed out a simple cross next to the highway. It’s the spot where in 2012 she found Brian Doyle, a 49-year-old oil worker from Florida, dead and partially buried in the snow. Doyle was run over and abandoned by his friend, who was later convicted of negligent homicide.
“He’d been laying there for a week in the snow,” said Ball, who patrols the eastern edge of the county alone, often an hour from the nearest backup deputy at the far end of the county.
Earlier this year, Ball said, four men beat a man nearly to death in Williston, put him in the trunk of a car, and dropped him off in a field in Roosevelt County. “When I started, I was taking dog calls,” said Ball, who joined the department in 2011. “Since then it has taken off.”
The FBI has warned that Mexican drug cartels are trafficking drugs to the area, targeting the large paychecks of the mostly young men who work in the Bakken. Felony drug arrests in Roosevelt County rose from 4 to 28 from 2008 to 2012, according to Sheriff Freedom Crawford. Crawford said methamphetamine is the biggest drug problem the county faces, followed by illegal painkillers. But a bigger problem, he said, is the increase in alcohol-fueled fistfights. From 2008 to 2012, assault arrests nearly doubled, to 173.
“Historically, we knew who our troublemakers are,” Crawford said. “Now after the oil field hit, we can’t keep up with it. We don’t know who these people are.”
Speaking of alcohol, the Flathead Beacon has a piece titled Montana and Alcohol—an Abusive Relationship:
A drive past the numerous saloons and bars that line city streets across the state will tell you that Montanans enjoy their alcohol. Montana has the second-highest ratio of bars to people in the U.S., and a new study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows the state also leads the nation in alcohol abuse.
According to the study, which was carried out between 2006 and 2010 and released in June, Montana ranks third in age-adjusted alcohol-attributable deaths (AAD) per 100,000 citizens, behind only New Mexico and Alaska.
Michael Cummins, the executive director at the Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency Clinic, said the drinking problem in Montana is reflective of a broader issue sweeping the rest of the country.
“Most people who drink don’t have a problem,” but the large number of drinkers combined with a lenient culture make alcohol our most abused drug, Cummins said. In Montana, on average 13.2 percent of all deaths for people between the ages of 20 and 64 can be linked to alcohol. In a state that only reached 1 million inhabitants in 2011, an average of 8,713 people suffer alcohol-related deaths every year.
The article goes on to claim that, according to a CDCP study, the annual cost of excessive drinking for the US is 223.5 billion dollars.
The next two articles are personal stories about how folks fall on hard times. The first is a Montana story featured on the public radio series, Mountain West Voices, titled Middle Aged, Professional and Homeless in Montana. Go to the link for the audio—it’s a compelling interview.
The second story is from the Washington Post, titled This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps. Here’s an excerpt:
2007 was a grand year for me. I moved back home from San Diego, where I’d produced ‘Good Morning San Diego.’ I quickly secured my next big gig, as a producer in Boston for the 6 p.m. news. The pay wasn’t great, but it was more than enough to support me. And my boyfriend was making good money, too, as a copy editor for the Hartford Courant.
When I found out I was pregnant in February 2008, it was a shock, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Two weeks later, when I discovered “it” was actually “they” (twins, as a matter of fact), I panicked a little. But not because I worried for our future. My middle-class life still seemed perfectly secure. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to do that much work.
Two weeks before my children were born, my future husband found himself staring at a pink slip. The days of unemployment turned into weeks, months, and, eventually, years.
Then my kids were born, six weeks early. They were just three pounds each at birth, barely the length of my shoe. We fed them through a little tube we attached to our pinky fingers because their mouths weren’t strong enough to suckle. We spent 10 days in the hospital waiting for them to increase in size. They never did. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my babies to put on weight. With their lives at risk, I switched from breast milk to formula, at about $15 a can. We went through dozens a week.
In just two months, we’d gone from making a combined $120,000 a year to making just $25,000 and leeching out funds to a mortgage we couldn’t afford. Our savings dwindled, then disappeared.
So I did what I had to do. I signed up for Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.