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Is It Cheaper To Live in South Dakota?
Nov 25, 2011
By Bernie Hunhoff
Politics are often cussed at Hunhoff holiday gatherings, and as many South Dakotans know, my extended family covers the ideological spectrum.
I happened to tell the clan of a fellow I know in Pierre whose home was heavily damaged by the flood. He was a state employee with a good job, but he couldn't get financing for a home "improvement" loan, even if the improvements were necessities like new sheetrock and flooring. So he told the bank to just keep the house and he left the state for a better-paying job.
"Well, that could be any of us," said one of my kin. "We could all get higher paying jobs elsewhere. But it's cheaper to live here."
Maybe I accidentally rolled my eyes, but I didn't argue because, after all, it was a holiday gathering and I was eating free.
But between you and me, I just haven't noticed that K-mart prices its lawn chairs and cranberry juice any cheaper in South Dakota than the rest of the country. It's well-documented that housing costs are on par with all but the high-cost areas of the USA, unless you live in one of those cool little West River towns like Fairfax or Bonesteel where the fishing is great and you can still get a decent old house for $12,875. Our energy prices were once lower, but they are catching up with the rest of the nation.
But what do I know. So I checked it out online, and soon came to this 50-state comparison. Of course, I was right ... and fortunately I am the only one in my family with a Web site — so I get the last word.
Check it out. South Dakota ranks 28th in cost of living — about in the middle of the pack. I was surprised to see that according to this data base, Nebraska is far cheaper. So are neighboring states Iowa and Wyoming. We are basically tied with North Dakota and Montana.
Wages are considerably lower in South Dakota. We generally rank around 50th in that category, so people working for wages are likely being squeezed here. Business owners, farmers and ranchers may or may not feel the same pressures, depending on their industries and their luck.
You know that we normally like to shed as nice a light as we can on life in South Dakota. But we also don't think it benefits anybody when we perpetuate a myth. If you take taxes into account (which this particular comparison doesn't seem to do) then South Dakota's ranking would probably improve somewhat. But not for the working man or woman, because they pay a far higher percentage of their pay in taxes than their wealthier neighbors.
And if you took taxes into account, then you'd want to also tabulate a hundred other things — like the fact that our technical school tuition is among the highest in the country. We are one of the only states that do not help low income students get a college education. One of the few that does not assist local communities and poor families with pre-school. Etc., etc. There's a flip side to being a low-tax state. So perhaps this comparison (which leaves out taxes) is one that might actually help the Hunhoffs to avoid family arguments. Or even eye-rolling.
South Dakota is a beautiful place to live. We don't need to perpetuate myths to make it seem even better.