Last updated on 2015.02.03
Todd Epp posts data on what it takes to be a member of the 1% in South Dakota—$404,010. That threshold for earning more than 99% of South Dakotans is higher than the national threshold of $380,000 and higher than in every adjoining state but Minnesota ($413,748) and North Dakota (boosted by oil barons to $502,393).
The numbers come from the Economic Policy Institute, which divides average income for one-percenters and average income for the rest of us and maps those ratios as measures of income inequality in each state:
By that measure, South Dakota's hoi polloi are farther behind Sanford and friends than are the proletariat of every adjoining state other than North Dakota. The ratio of South Dakota's average one-percenter income to everyone else's is the 16th-highest in the nation.
If we compare the average salaries EPI calculates here with the average teacher salaries for 2012, South Dakota looks worse. Nationwide in 2012, the average teacher's salary was 29% higher than the average salary for the masses. Teachers are far from joining the one-percenters, but their training and work earn them higher-than average pay in 43 states and the District of Columbia. South Dakota is one of six places that deems teachers worth less than the average salary of the 99%:
- In Colorado, teachers make 1% less than that average.
- In Kansas, 1.7% less.
- Nebraska, 5.2% less.
- Virginia, 12.5% less.
- South Dakota, 21.2% less.
- North Dakota, 22.9% less.
These data dispute the response South Dakota's Republican lawmakers offer that low pay and workforce shortages aren't unique to the teaching profession, that everyone else gets lower pay as well in South Dakota. The average pay for the 99% in South Dakota ranks 14th in the nation. Our teacher pay ranks last, and our ratio of teacher pay to the 99%'s average pay is the second lowest in the nation.
From 2009 to 2012, income grew for South Dakota's one-percenters by 42.7%, the tenth-highest rich-getting-richer rate in the nation. Post-recession income for the rest of us grew 7.0%, the second-highest rate in the nation (thank you, corn!). South Dakota's 1% captured 53.4% of post-recession income growth; Minnesota's top hats captured 56.0% of that new income. Things could be worse: in seventeen states, the top 1% accounted for all income growth from 2009 to 2012—in other words, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
Remember, income inequality threatens economic opportunity and democracy. When wealth concentrates, power concentrates. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this fact in what appears to have been the healthier democracy of 1830s America. If South Dakota wants democracy, it needs to find ways to share the wealth with teachers and all members of the 99% instead of letting the richest take more than half of the pie.