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:
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, wasicu—hoka 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, 1 Child||$649||$280|
|1 Adult, 2 Children||$806||$352|
|1 Adult, 3 Children||$1,004||$424|
|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.