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Thursday, December 9, 2010

South Dakota Cost of Living Spikes Above US Average

Here's news to straighten your curls: South Dakota's cost of living is higher than the national average.

Say what? The last time I ran numbers on cost of living and salaries, I found that in Quarter 1 of this year, South Dakota's cost of living was 92.8% of the national average, the 13th lowest in the nation. When I checked my usual source, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), I found South Dakota's cost of living jumped in the third quarter to 101.25% of the national average. That ranks us 32nd in the nation.

Hold on—really? I've been following these cost-of-living figures for some time, and South Dakota's has consistently floated around the 90% level. How did we suddenly, in just a couple quarters, boom up over 101%?

I emailed MERIC to find out if they could explain this strange stat. They replied (with admirable alacrity!) that Q2 saw "a huge increase in transportation, housing, and grocery costs" (dang—don't tell me Sarah Palin was right!) and that Q3 saw a big surge in health care costs. MERIC explains that sometimes some cities participating in the C2ER/ACCRA cost-of-living survey misreport or don't report for a certain period, while other experience some price volatility that mucks up the comparisons. MERIC says their own state of Missouri dropped out of its normal position in the top 10 for a couple quarters, then bounced back.

So what do you think, fellow South Dakota shoppers? Have we seen an unusual price spike in the last couple quarters that didn't happen in other states? Or is this sudden 101.25% cost of living just an artifact of gimpy data?

Just in case these numbers are legit, permit me to run my favorite cost-of-living calculation: teacher pay purchasing power:

State Avg Teacher Pay (AY 2008-2009) % US Avg TP Rank Cost of Living Index (2010 Q3) COL Rank Teacher Purchasing Power
SD $35,070 64.56 51 101.25 32 63.77
ND $41,654 76.68 50 98.59 24 77.78
MN $51,938 95.62 20 103.4 34 92.47
IA $48,638 89.54 26 94.51 16 94.74
NE $44,957 82.76 42 90.78 6 91.17
WY $54,602 100.52 16 99.61 29 100.91
MT $44,426 81.79 46 99.43 28 82.26
US $54,319 100

Short form: by current cost of living data, public school teachers choosing to live and work in South Dakota will have less than 64% of the purchasing power than the national average. If those teachers leave South Dakota for any neighboring state they will make more money and be able to buy more with that money. Even in Minnesota, with the highest cost of living in the neighborhood, teachers would enjoy 45% more purchasing power than they do in South Dakota... at least by Q3 numbers.

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