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South Dakota Retailers Can’t Find Sober, Articulate Workers—Whose Fault Is That?

South Dakota isn’t just short on teachers or skilled labor. It’s apparently short on applicants for even basic, low-skill positions like retail. The labor shortage driving the Aberdeen Walmart to offer starting cashiers and stockers $10 an hour is apparently squeezing retailers statewide:

“I don’t care if you’re in Mitchell or Watertown or Gettysburg, trying to find that available worker that is committed and returns to work is a challenge that we hear everyday,” said Shawn Lyons, executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, in an interview with The Daily Republic.

…Lyons said 15 members of his organization met with U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds last week in Arlington, and everyone shared the same concern.

“As we went around the room, I think almost all of them said without question workforce shortage and availability is their number-one priority right now,” Lyons said [Evan Hendershot, “Retail Stores Struggling to Find Qualified Employees,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.09.05].

Lyons asserts that retailers are “doing their part” by “doing everything they can” with compensation, benefits, and scheduling flexibility to recruit workers. But a Mitchell Kmart manager says they still can’t find qualified applicants.

And what does it take to work at Kmart?

Because the labor pool is so small, the local Kmart hasn’t seen many applications for qualified employees. The Kmart management employee said they look for a person who can carry on an intelligent conversation and communicate while also being able to pass a drug and background check [Hendershot, 2015.09.05].

You’re telling me that everybody capable of intelligent communication in Mitchell already has a satisfactory job and that the only applicants left are dopers and felons? Uff da—free vo-tech for welders isn’t going to solve that problem.

If our workforce is that depleted, then at least one of the following may be true:

  1. South Dakota’s education system is failing miserably… or at least finally reaching a critical point of failure following two generations of neglect by state legislators who have refused to do their part and raise teacher pay.
  2. South Dakota’s education system is functioning as well as other states’, but the top products of that education are moving away, leaving South Dakota with a higher proportion of the (ahem) bottom products of our schools.
  3. South Dakotans need to stop doing so many drugs.
  4. South Dakota needs a “ban the box” law to facilitate the re-entry of ex-cons into the workforce.
  5. Lyons needs to expand his definition of “doing everything they can” to get his retailers to pay workers a living wage worth applicants’ efforts.

Even if larger social factors are depleting South Dakota’s workforce, retailers and other employers need to focus on the one thing they can do right now to put warm bodies on the sales floor: pay better wages. You may not like offering more than minimum, but if you believe in the market, for now, you’ll have to keep raising pay and benefits until the market bites.



  1. David Newquist 2015-09-05 20:08

    Wages are part of the problem, but South Dakota refuses to face a fact that is common to all working skill levels: a lot of people simply do not want to live here.

  2. Roger Elgersma 2015-09-05 20:18

    Retailers wanted the minimum wage to stay low. Now they say they do the best they can. Does the truth ever matter here.

  3. Jenny 2015-09-05 20:36

    This is really interesting Cory, especially when compared to MN.
    MN students has the best ACT scores in the country. MN ranks second with highest percentage of high schoolers that graduate. MN is 10th on the number of people with bachelor degrees, while SD ranks 35th.
    There are
    more registered nurses with advanced degrees in Southern MN than any other region in the country. Mayo Clinic has a generous tuition reimbursement benefit that strongly promotes education. Does Sanford Health or Citibank have a tuition reimbursement program?

  4. Jenny 2015-09-05 20:38

    oops, my bad – MN students have the best ACT scores in the country (not has).

  5. grudznick 2015-09-05 21:54

    It is the Libbies’ fault.

  6. MOSES 2015-09-05 21:58

    Blame it on the last democratic Governor and they go to immigration man to fix this give ma a break.Pay a higher wage will solve some of this but theyAare getting what they deserve.

  7. grudznick 2015-09-05 21:58

    #3 is most likely.

    #6 is that Kmart might need to lower their standards a bit and clean up the linoleum in the aisles. I once went to a Kmart a while back and the checker people seemed very nice but the floors needed sweeping something terrible.

  8. John 2015-09-05 22:38

    Horsefeathers. Do what they did in the Bakken – pay them, and they will come.

    Anything else is sniveling, greed, or selfishness: but I repeat myself.

  9. mike from iowa 2015-09-06 08:08

    Wingnut pols couldn’t find their butt with either hand,but somehow can find other butts to grope.

  10. Janell 2015-09-06 10:22

    Who can live on $10 an hour? Pay a living wage and you’ll get good help.

  11. grudznick 2015-09-06 12:04

    Good riddance to those people, Mr. Newquist. Good riddance. Too many people here as it is.

  12. Porter Lansing 2015-09-06 13:11

    Low income workers have a hard time living in Sodak. There’s no Obamacare, I’m told and constant ridicule of people who need food stamps and Section 8. It’s as if the middle class considers it a competition. To hold the low income people down somehow makes them feel less down themselves.

  13. bearcreekbat 2015-09-06 13:42

    Porter, Ta-Nehisi Coates confirms your point in his new book “Between the World and Me.” In explaining to his 15 year old son why blacks may have a more difficult time than others today, Coates explains that whiteness itself is simply a fiction, similar to other fictions, that people have used throughout history to demonize certain groups (including the Irish, Catholics, Asians, Germans, etc, etc). One group would demonize another group by giving them an identity and then placing the identified group at the bottom of the mountain, so that the demonizers would be above them.

    In the case of blacks, demonizers relied on the “one drop of blood” rule to create the black identity for the hundreds of years before our civil war. “One drop” of black blood allowed others to justify enslaving people who were really no different than anyone else. While slavery has ended, the psychological need to create groups of people who are less worthy continues.

    Here in SD demonizers can demonize the poor so that they remain at the bottom of the mountain and create a false sense that the demonizers are somehow better people than the poor folks at the bottom. And the poor are a relatively safe target to demonize because they really have no defenders or legal protection against such hateful behavior.

    Nationally, people seeking elective office have focused on demonizing immigrants by calling them “illegals, criminals, and anchor babies,” etc., so that demonizers who feel bad about their own identities have an identifiable group that can be considered less worthy to take up residence at the bottom of the mountain, thereby elevating the demonizers.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-06 14:38

    John’s right: the Bakken shows that if you pay people enough, they’ll move anywhere and do anything.

    Porter, yes, there is some sadistic us-vs-them going on. Come on, people, is your life really so bad that the only way you have to make yourself feel better is to let payday lenders take advantage of your neighbors, to deny low-income folks health coverage, and assure yourself that other people suffering misfortune did something to deserve it?

    BCB, does Coates have a recipe for overcoming that demonization?

  15. Porter Lansing 2015-09-06 15:08

    For a bit of clarification, when I say the middle class, I mean the majority of the middle class. And when I say majority I mean Republicans.

  16. bearcreekbat 2015-09-06 19:05

    Cory, I read Coates as concluding this was a problem that could not be solved by his son or himself, but had to be solved by the same folks (he called them Dreamers) who, in effect, created the problem by dreaming they could be better than others if they labeled others as lesser people. Coates’ goal seemed to be more of an effort to explain the realities that his son would face in the future rather than a blueprint for change.

    Coates then focused on helping his son find the will and means to live free and survive as a young man (labeled black) in a world of people who dream that they can better themselves by creating group identities for others to look down upon.

  17. larry kurtz 2015-09-06 20:21

    Cory, this post is timely, relevant and entirely unsurprising: curious whether you could write about something we don’t know.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-06 20:31

    Larry, you know it, I know it, but I won’t believe enough voters know it until 50% + 1 of them vote to replace Noem, Thune, and the SDGOP with Dems. Hit that Share button!

  19. larry kurtz 2015-09-06 20:36

    i have just tapped into PP’s jugular: let me get back you?

  20. Porter Lansing 2015-09-06 21:11

    USA will be the best country in the world when we judge ourselves by how the least of us are progressing and not by how most of us are progressing. There’s a political party that teaches that the free market, if unregulated will lift the boats of the low income workers by it’s nature. That giving the poor a hand up and a fair shake is not a generous action. That it’s actually hurting the poor. A political party teaching that the best way to help the disadvantaged is to help the rich. Really? Help the rich and that will “trickle down” to our poor? We’ve seen plenty of “down” now where’s the darn “trickle”? Our way to level this playing field is by group action. Forming labor groups at work. Engaging the religious that aren’t preoccupied with the selfish notion that the end is near and we have to think of ourselves first. Groups of students. Groups in the neighborhood and in your town, county and state. Discussion groups like this blog with it’s superb contrast of those who don’t agree with us. (There’s another blog in the state that’s failing miserably. It’s dying because people are tired of hate. Tired of being told to be afraid and selfish.) We now have liberal groups of every type imaginable. Then by melding these groups we’ll form a movement. A movement like the one that ended the Vietnam War with civil disobedience. A movement to aid all of us not just for the benefit of those who already have “privilege”, just by their birth. Groups that actively and loudly ridicule and scorn the selfish among us. Groups that call out the bullies that hate. Aggressive groups that demand the life and progress desired by all humans. That is our path. The time is now to start the movement one choice at a time. Vote Democrat for our Future ~ Vote Democrat to End the Hate

  21. David Newquist 2015-09-06 21:31

    Larry, PP doesn’t have a jugular because it carries blood from the brain which he doesn’t have/ He is just one big lower colon.

  22. leslie 2015-09-07 04:22

    larry, you are not going to use a hammer are you? ;)

  23. Nick Nemec 2015-09-07 07:34

    If you pay them they will come.

  24. Les 2015-09-07 10:43

    Yes, Nick. From India, Mexico, Guatemala…..

  25. Steve Hickey 2015-09-07 13:54

    This is a good time for any and all who work in the payday and title loan biz to jump ship. Lots of employment opportunities out there for you.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-07 19:14

    Ha! Spot on, Rev. Hickey! Cap the rates, offer better, less soul-destroying employment elsewhere, Dollar Loan Center won’t find any applicants.

    (By the way, Steve, did Chuck Brennan see you off at the airport to Scotland yet? ;-) )

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