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South Dakota Cost of Living 99.5% of National Average

My research for my latest South Dakota Magazine post revealed a South Dakota-culture-jamming statistic.

Go to Governor Daugaard's own economic development website. Dennis has a nice little widget that lets prospective business recruits and the rest of us commoners compare South Dakota with other states on numerous economic metrics. Punch in cost of living. Guess what happens?

According to the current data, South Dakota's cost of living is 99.5% of the national average. In other words, move here, and your cost of living will typical of the United States.

You'll actually spend less to get by in Nebraska, Iowa, Montana, Wyoming, and even oil-booming North Dakota.

So, anyone want to argue that South Dakota's cost of living makes up for low teacher salaries?


  1. Jenny 2012.11.29

    South Dakota, the land of low wage, where you get to work two jobs for the price of one.
    It makes South Dakotans feel better when they claim their cost of living is cheap. The reality is, it is not cheap to live anywhere in the US today. I myself, have lived in MN over ten years at a wage I could never imagine in SD. The cost of living here is comparable to Sioux Falls.

  2. Douglas Wiken 2012.11.29

    Groceries are absurdly expensive here. Also, distance to travel anyplace probably raises cost of living. Sales tax on food, clothing, etc. makes everything 6% higher here.

    Wheel taxes on the first 4 wheels of vehicles is also another absurdly backward tax in SD. It is not the first 4 wheels of 2500 pound vehicles that do the damage. It is the 16 or more wheels that do about 15,000 times more damage per mile that destroy roads. The tax should be something like a $1000 per wheel after the first four.

    Bass-acward taxing in South Dakota contributes to both poverty and demonstrates poverty of thinking and ignorance of reality.

  3. Stan Gibilisco 2012.11.29

    Stuff is pricey here in Lead, that's for sure, but I think in part, because it's a tourist area.

    As for actual cost of living, it depends on the sort of lifestyle you lead.

    For example, I spend a lot on fuel here, both for the vehicle and for home heating. In Hawaii those costs were near zero (no weather extremes, no vehicle). One might say that my quality of life was lower there because my living space was smaller and I had only a bicycle for transportation, but in retrospect, I would find it rather difficult to say I suffered too much out there.

    I mean, swimming pool was free, 50 meters, outdoors ... and Kailua Bay (Kona) offered not only swimming but fabulous views of all kinds of cool marine critters.

    And the fresh fruit and fish, oh my, oh my.

    Hawaii's taxes were horrific, but the zero utilities pretty near offset them ...

    ... of course my income does not vary with the state I choose, so I do best to live where costs are low.

    What I'm trying to say here, Cory, is that cost of living is a complicated thing to figure out, because it depends on attitudes, personalities, and a lot of other factors.

    And when people try to quantify "Quality of Life," I feel like laughing and screaming at the same time. What rubbish!

    Heck, I probably could live just about as cheaply in San Diego or San Antonio or whatever ... but all that said ...

    Teachers in this state are getting hosed, no matter how you slice it.

    Maybe I should become your evil twin, Cory, and move to, say, Massachusetts and then grouse about their choices and their system and their modes of thinking, and see how long it takes before someone asks, "If you hate this place so much, why the heck do you stay here?"

  4. Roger Elgersma 2012.11.29

    These numbers always look at what people pay for out of their own pockets. But if other states provide fifteen percent more services, then we are fifteen percent short on our standard of living. Fifteen percent is just a number I used. Whatever the lower amount of taxes that we pay is the amount less that we get. Also, all those well paid teachers in other states have more to spend and give businesses more sales than our businesses get. That trickle down also is not normally counted. It actually would be normal to count it but it does not get done.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.29

    Jenny, you remind me of something my wife noted. Our much higher-than-average percentage of two-earner families is perhaps skewing our per-capita figure. More moms and dads have to put in more hours to keep up with per capita income elsewhere, which doesn't exactly indicate we have better quality of life.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.29

    And then, yes, Roger, those hard-working folks find fewer social services to support them and their kids. Better wages, public and private, would improve a lot of quality of living.

    Stan, I find the evil twin notion amusing! I agree cost of living is complicated to calculate, and even when well-calculated, it won't reflect all the aspects of the quality of life. Smaller house, bike, no car needed? Sounds great!

    But as long as our politicians use "cost of living" as their excuse for shafting teachers, and as long as the state publishes this data, I'll be more than happy to point out what the cost of living actually is. Darned data!

  7. Wayne Pauli 2012.11.30

    I tell my students to not get "hung up" on cost of living. My unscientific approach is to say that the cost of living is just 10% more than what you make. Keeps you hungry, keeps you humble, it keeps you working, and it keeps life interesting. When a politician uses the term I immediately tune them out because it is qualitative not quantitative in nature.

  8. Brad 2012.11.30

    My wife and I knew this when we moved back to SD from AZ in 2006. Our expenses didn't change much between AZ and SD. We don't use as much fuel now with shorter commutes, but heating expenses shifted the funds to our utilities.

  9. Andrew 2012.12.01

    I don't have any kids, have a job with higher than average pay for this area, live modestly (that is unless you count living in a house and getting a few 'toys' like a new tv occasionally extravagant) and am still just squeeking by after paying all my bills.
    I honestly don't know how anyone with a family does it around here without going insane from worry or boredom...

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