We spend a lot of time here in the blogosphere looking at South Dakota's wages from different angles: a regional low for workers' earning potential and for median wages, low wages motivating a quarter of our vo-tech grads to leave the state, and less cushion in average wages for folks raising families.

Let's add this new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on average weekly wages in 2013, county by county, nationwide:

Average weekly wage, by county, 2013. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Click to access super-cool interactive map at BLS website!)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Click to access super-cool interactive map at BLS website!)

South Dakota has a tiny strip of top-quintile wage opportunity along I-29 in Union, Lincoln, and Minnehaha counties. Union County offers the best average wage in the state, $885 a week, while Lincoln and Minnehaha each crack $800. The next best average weekly pay is in Harding County, $753. The only other counties that break $700 are around the big metros of Pierre (ah, government!), Brookings, Aberdeen, and Rapid City.

I-90 isn't helping Jackson County much; the Kadoka-Wanblee metroplex offers the lowest average wage in South Dakota, $427 a week. Three other counties—Jones, Lyman, and McPherson (Charlie Hoffman! work harder!)—fail to break $500.

Before I go crazy with the analysis, let's recognize two important facts about these numbers.  The BLS is mapping average weekly wage. As is usually the case with wage data, averages are highly skewed by the handful of top wage earners. In Union County, for instance, most workers in North Sioux City are making less than $885 a week (work 50 weeks a year, that's  $44,250 annually); the handful enjoying the good life behind state-funded dikes at Dakota Dunes skew that average with their six-figure salaries.

Furthermore, this BLS dataset only counts wage earners. These figures don't fully reflect the general economic health of each county because they don't count the unemployed. For instance, Shannon County (that's Oglala County to you, wasicuhoka hey!) beats most counties in South Dakota with an average weekly pay of $681. So does Buffalo County at $666. Yet these two counties regularly top the lists of poorest counties in the U.S. because there aren't enough jobs to go around. Those higher average wages don't include all the folks earning zero.

With those caveats in mind, let's look at how well those wages put food on the table. MIT's Living Wage Calculator offers data on the income it takes for wage earners to provide for themselves and for different sized families in each state, county, and town. Remember, "living wage" doesn't mean middle-class standard of living; it means food, shelter, visit to the doctor, gas to get to work, nothing fancy.

The county figures don't differ much from county to county in South Dakota—the biggest difference between Jackson and Union counties is $43 a week. You can pick your county and compare the BLS wage data, but here, let's settle for the statewide living wage figures (I take MIT's hourly-wage data for South Dakota and multiply by 40 hours):

Hourly Wages Living Wage Poverty Wage
1 Adult $298 $208
1 Adult, 1 Child $649 $280
1 Adult, 2 Children $806 $352
1 Adult, 3 Children $1,004 $424
2 Adults $498 $280
2 Adults, 1 Child $616 $352
2 Adults, 2 Children $670 $424
2 Adults, 3 Children $782 $496

The average wage in almost every county will keep most families out of poverty. But for a living wage, add even on child to your household, and you'll be able to get by on one average full-time paycheck in 28 of South Dakota's 66 counties. Have two children, and you're down to 13 counties where a family can afford to have one parent stay home while the other works 40 hours a week—and again, that assumes you have two parents in the home and that the working parent can land a job with average pay, meaning pay that (remember the rich skew!) will be higher than the majority of jobs offer.

You want a family-friendly state? Step one is to brown up that map, increase wages, and create more jobs that allow one honest hard worker to support a family.


Northern Plains News puts more lie to South Dakota Republican assertions that South Dakota is a model of the GOP smaller-government philosophy. From 2007 to 2012, South Dakota added workers to government payrolls at a faster rate than our neighbors and the national average:

The Mount Rushmore State, along with fellow Northern Plains states Wyoming and Nebraska, had government employment grow by more than 4 percent during that period.

North Dakota and Minnesota had a 2 to 4 percent decrease in state and local government employees during the period while Montana’s government workforce grew by less than 2 percent and Iowa’s by 2 to 4 percent ["SD State, Local Government Employee Growth Among Fastest in Nation," Northern Plains News via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.07.18].

Bigger government payrolls, faster state budget growth... that doesn't sound like what South Dakota Republicans tell us they're about, does it?

Republican-dominated state government pays its workers a lot more than do local governments:

Average annual state government wages in South Dakota were $50,000 to $55,000 and $35,000 to $40,000 for local government employees [NPN, 2014.07.18].

And in a remarkable and unexpected assertion of priorities, check out which field draws the biggest government paychecks in South Dakota:

State employees working in education were the best paid, at an annual salary of $60,000 to $65,000 and the lowest paid were local natural resources employees at $30,000 to $35,000 [NPN, 2014.07.18].

State workers in education get great salaries! It's too bad the state can't shake some of that $60K down to the K-12 teachers pounding the whiteboards for $40K to help with recruitment and retention.


Thanks to the South Dakota Democratic Party, we have the opportunity to vote for an economic stimulus package in November. When you vote to raise the minimum wage, you will not be voting to sandbag the economy. Quite to the contrary, there's a good chance you'll be voting to create more jobs, as suggested by Republicans' greatest enemy, empirical evidence:

Of the 13 states that increased their minimum wage in early 2014, all but one (New Jersey) are seeing employment gains. Furthermore, nine of the remaining 12 states are above the median for this period. The average change in employment for the 13 states that increased their minimum wage is +0.99% while the remaining states have an average employment change of +0.68% [Ben Wolcoott, "2014 Job Creation Faster in States that Raised the Minimum Wage," Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2014.06.30].

CEPR provides this chart showing job growth for the first five months of 2014 compared with the last five months of 2013:


South Dakota is actually among states where employment has recently stagnated or declined.  The only state that has lost jobs immediately after raising its minimum wage on January 1, 2014, is New Jersey. (Blame the decline of gambling in Atlantic City? The highest out-migration rate in the U.S.? Chris Christie?)

CEPR itself recognizes that "While this kind of simple exercise can't establish causality, it does provide evidence against theoretical negative employment effects of minimum-wage increases." So when Governor Daugaard and the Chamber of Commerce wail that increasing the minimum wage will cost South Dakota jobs, you wave this CEPR report in their faces (and Saturday's report from John Tsitrian, and last July's report from Michael Larson) and say, "Next issue."

And be glad we're not asking for $15 an hour, or $21.72, or some other minimum wage that properly recognizes the dignity of workers.


While the Supreme Court imbues corporations with the power of religious belief, Justice Samuel Alito points quietly toward the logical political response:

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court’s five more conservative justices, said a federal religious-freedom law applied to for-profit corporations controlled by religious families. He added that the requirement that the companies provide contraception coverage imposed a substantial burden on the companies’ religious liberty. He said the government could provide the coverage in other ways [Adam Liptak, "Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptives Mandate for Some Corporations," New York Times, 2014.06.30].

medicare-for-allHow can the government provide the health care coverage that Hobby Lobby and ACA-trashing conservatives will gleefully deny? By doing what Rick Weiland says and going back to what the Affordable Care Act should have offered in the first place: a universal public option. Medicare eligibility for everyone.

Consider the implications of today's Supreme Court ruling for employees:

  1. The ACA is intended to remove some of the grit from the labor market by guaranteeing some basic protections in health insurance.
  2. The Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood ruling throw that grit back in the wheels, increasing the homework workers have to do to figure out whether their current or prospective employers offer health plans that meet their needs.
  3. An applicant going into an interview wanting to learn about the company's health insurance plan and exemptions in coverage must ask questions that, under today's rulings, are treated as fundamentally religious questions.
  4. Asking such questions opens the door for the employer to ask—or at least wonder about—the applicant's religious beliefs. Good heavens, she's asking whether our health plan covers contraception. Is she one of those heathens who thinks women deserve access to basic health care? We can't let her corrupt our employees!
  5. If holy companies can Swiss-cheese their health plans, their employees can't switch to better coverage in the ACA Marketplace, since the Marketplace only takes applicants whose employers don't offer coverage.
  6. Therefore, we need to elect a Congress that will revisit the ACA, open the Marketplace to all willing customers, and offer all Americans the chance to buy into a publicly funded health insurance option that offers them the same stable, reliable coverage no matter what sort of religionists they work for.

The Displaced Plainsman features another economic scorecard that doesn't fit Governor Dennis Daugaard's portrayal of South Dakota as a great place to do business... or maybe it does. Mr. Kallis finds this list of the ten best states in which to make a living, a list that South Dakota does not make:

South Dakota wasn't first on this list. That honor went to Washington state. South Dakota didn't make the top 10. Neighboring Minnesota ranked 3rd, North Dakota 7th, and Nebraska 10th. Scrolling down the list, two of our other neighbors were in the top twenty: Iowa ranked 15th and Wyoming 17th. Montana made it into the top 50 half of states coming in at 22.

South Dakota didn't make the top half. When it comes to earning a living, South Dakota is the best of the worst, coming in 26th. I'm not a marketing guru, but I doubt most people respond well to invitations to be "art of the best of the worst". Further, "Come Work in South Dakota; Earning a Living Here Is Only Slight More Difficult Than It Is In Montana" doesn't have much of a ring to it and it doesn't fit on a bumper sticker [Leo Kallis, "South Dakota Worst State In Region To Earn A Living," The Displaced Plainsman, 2014.06.24].

If Governor Daugaard is hanging around the Mall of America trying to convince regular working Minnesotans to move here, those stats won't help much. If he's trying to recruit CEOs who want squeeze labor for greater profits while they keep their villas in Wayzata, knowing that their labor market competitors in South Dakota aren't pouring on the wages could be a cynical plus.

But South Dakota already has among the the lowest unemployment rate in the country. New companies moving in need to bring more workers into the state. So even those profiteering CEOs have an interest in being able to turn to applicants from Minneapolis, Fargo, and Lincoln and to say, "Yes! Moving to our new factory in Mitchell will be a step up for you and your family." The stats Mr. Kallis shows us challenge business leaders and the Governor alike to make that claim with a straight face.

Update 12:03 CDT: That didn't last long: CNBC has taken away South Dakota's "Best State for Business" ranking after just one year. In the newest rankings, South Dakota falls from #1 to #11. Minnesota ranks #6, a fact about which Minnesota is entitled to razz us mercilessly... or at least ask that we remove our big #1 banner from the Minneapolis airport.


KELO is about as good at writing headlines as Pat Powers. Today's example:

Survey: 30 Percent Of SD Teaching Positions Open

30%?! Holy turnover! Nationally, the teacher attrition rate is about 16%. 30% turnover would put South Dakota on the news map. But KELO's headline is wrong. The AP report says that 30% of teaching positions posted this year remain open. This information comes from the School Administrators of South Dakota, who offer the following information:

  • South Dakota schools advertised 803 teaching positions this spring. Out of about 9,000 teaching positions total, that suggests a turnover rate of 9%. Remarkable: even with our lowest in the nation pay, those figures suggest South Dakota teachers leave their jobs at a lower rate than the rest of the nation. Dedication?
  • But wait! SASD gets its info from a voluntary survey of school districts. SASD says 125 of South Dakota's 151 school districts responded... which means we're missing info from about a sixth. Divide our turnover rate by 83% , and we get an adjusted turnover rate more like 11%.
  • 258 of those positions were still open on May 28.

SASD also collects some interesting data on openings and applicants in specific fields:

Openings Applicants Apps/Job High Quality %HQ
HS Math 62 524 8.5 153 29%
HS Science 36 129 3.6 62 48%
HS English 64 255 4.0 131 51%
HS Social Studies 15 197 13.1 95 48%

More applicants want to teach math than the other core high school subjects (trigonometric identities do have a powerful allure). The responding schools saw 8.5 applications for each high school math opening. Competition for science and English positions is half as intense. Social studies openings this year are rarest, but they draw the most relative interest, with 13.1 applicants per opening.

Quality doesn't correspond to quantity. Administrators reviewing the apps are finding fewer than 30% of the high school math applicants are "High Quality", compared to a muster-passing rate of about 50% for science, English, and social studies.

SASD does not break down data for openings in high school French. But I'll be keeping my French dictionary and my English certification handy!


The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds another show vote tomorrow to boost the Keystone XL pipeline. Big Oil and friends are thus cranking out a little extra Keystone XL baloney.

Prairie Business offers up the American Petroleum Institute's laughable claim that building TransCanada's pipeline across the Great Plains will create 42,100 jobs. This claim is old news, based on fuzzy math that assumes those construction workers spending a month or two in each county along the construction route will create a booming demand for ballet dancers and speech therapists at the man camps.

Alas, Big Labor is on board with Big Oil's Keystone XL snake oil:

[President of AFL-CIO’s building and construction trades department Steve] McGarvey said the project also would bring $3.1 billion in construction contracts, support and materials to his industry.

“I think there comes a time when as a country you circle wagons and get behind what’s gonna be in our best long-term interest,” he said [Katherine Lymn, "American Petroleum Institute: Approve Keystone XL for the Jobs," Prairie Business, 2014.06.17].

Long-term interest? Let's see, when Keystone XL clears the glut at Cushing, closes the price gap between North American and offshore oil, and raises our gasoline prices 20 to 40 cents per gallon, it will shackle our economy with an ongoing drag. Just a 20-cent rise knocks $22 billion out of the economy, swamping the $3.1-billion temporary pipeline infusion McGarvey cites. More expensive gasoline reduces the amount consumers can spend on other goods and services.

A $20 increase in the price of a barrel of oil increases unemployment by 0.1% in one year. One tenth of one percentage point of the current U.S. workforce is about 150,000 jobs. If Keystone XL raised the price of oil on this continent just $6, we'd lose about 50,000 jobs, more than enough to wipe out even the indirect, induced, magic-math jobs the API and other pipeline dreamers want you to think Keystone XL will bring. So even if API were telling the truth, we'd see 42,100 jobs come and go for the few months it takes to build the pipeline, then sandbag ourselves thousands more jobs long-term.

North Dakota Senator John Hoeven and Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer now say TransCanada will get the green light to build Keystone XL by next spring. Even if that happens, we should thank Keystone XL opponents for getting the President to at least delay the pipeline's long-term economic damage for another year.

Related Reading: TransCanada's permit to build Keystone XL in South Dakota expires June 29. When they resubmit their application, we could boost the economy by bringing a thousand Keystone XL opponents to Pierre to testify, protest, and buy sandwiches.

But don't wait for the hearing—protest now! Dakota Rural Action is among the participants in a Day of Unity and Action against Keystone XL on Saturday at the Pte Ospaye Spiritual Camp in Bridger, the Wiconi Un Tipi Camp in Lower Brule, and the Oyate Wahacanka Woecun Camp in Ideal.


Too many tabs open: time to clear the queue! Here's a potpourri of my weekend reading:

1. My friend The Displaced Plainsman offers his take on a fascinating study that finds beautiful people rationalizing their genetic good fortune into a greater acceptance of economic inequality. From a political perspective, that means that if you're looking for a candidate more sensitive to inequality and injustice, you vote for Stace Nelson.

2. Some bosses evidently think they are entitled to enhance income inequality. Washington Post columnist calls for stiffer penalties for wage theft. Hmmm... would server tip-out be a form of wage theft? And do any of South Dakota's pretty politicians care?

3. If you waiters and waitresses are looking for fairer-paying jobs, South Dakota's job outlook isn't too ugly. Moody's Analytics predicts South Dakota will see 6,809 new jobs this year, an increase of 1.62%. Minnesota will see 51,359 new jobs, growth of 1.85%. Tell me again, where's that competitive advantage we get from not doing a state income tax?

4. Speaking of tips, your tips (informational and financial) have helped this blog fight a real David-and-Goliath battle. The Madville Times has apparently been leading the charge against the biggest 2014 Q1 money-raiser in the South Dakota Senate race. My blogging and her fundraising demonstrate either my fearlessness or my ineffectiveness. Maybe both. Onward!


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