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Aberdeen Living Wage $9.12? MIT May Have Lowballed Housing Costs

Aberdeen American News business reporter Victoria Lusk (boy, I don’t know which AAN scribe has the better superhero alias, Victoria Lusk or Shannon Marvel) grinds out some Brown County-level data on the MIT Living Wage data that we’ve used on this blog for economic analyses of workers’ situation in South Dakota.

Lusk pulls MIT’s calculations for Brown County and finds that it takes between 1.3% and 3.9% less income to scrape by in Brown County than it does in South Dakota in general. A single person in Brown County can scrape together the bare necessities on $9.12 an hour; statewide, singles need to make $9.48 an hour.

MIT calculates bare-minimum expenses in seven categories: food, child care, medical, housing, transportation, annual taxes, and other. MIT figures different expenses, lower than statewide averages, for Brown County residents in just two categories: housing and taxes. Having rented and purchased a home in Aberdeen during the last fifteen months, I feel comfortable calling that calculation into question. Maybe houses are cheap up in Westport and Hecla, but in Aberdeen, where over 70% of Brown County lives, the housing market is tight.

Lusk finds local expertise and data to support my impression that MIT is lowballing Brown County housing:

Housing: The living wage calculator estimated housing costs between $406 per month ($4,872 annually) for one adult and $763 per month ($9,516 annually) for a single parent with three children.

Jody Zueger, Aberdeen Housing Authority executive director, thinks estimates might be a little low, judging from her experience and what she sees in the industry. For example, the one-adult scenario is likely an efficiency apartment, and one that is likely older, she said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development fair market rent standards in 2016 show housing in Brown County averaging between $416 for an efficiency and $504 for a one-bedroom apartment to $957 for a three-bedroom apartment. Each scenario is above the living wage estimate [Victoria Lusk, “Brown County’s Living Wage Equals $9.12 per Hour,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.04.13].

$9.12 or $9.48, even our voter-initiated above-federal minimum wage of $8.55 an hour is still not a living wage. Workers starting at minimum are already getting less than what it takes to get by; cutting young workers’ pay further with Referred Law 20 seems all the more punitive and unnecessary.

But it might be a good idea to expand Medicaid to bring those minimum wage earners closer to a living wage. Lusk reports that multiplying the Brown County living wage to an annual salary yields $18,970 for a single person to get by for one year. If Governor Daugaard finally cowboys up and expands Medicaid, he would make affordable health insurance available to single, childless workers making up to $16,105 a year.


  1. MOSES 2016-04-13 16:53

    .Still poverty. medicaid. food stamps Great faces low wages South Dakota.New motto for state We came to die not to buy.

  2. Mrs. Nelson 2016-04-13 17:41

    I make a bit more than a $1 over this living wage, so I sat down and did the math quick. If I lived alone, I couldn’t afford to live here. I would have to live in a crappy, small apartment for $350/mo if I am lucky (maybe with utilities included). It is likely I wouldn’t be able to make my $180/mo car payment or pay my car insurance in a timely manner; expenses like fuel, food and clothing would have to be carefully planned and budgeted and barring any major expenses I would maybe be able to scrape by. But things like vacations and new shoes would be few and far between.

    It’s all a big joke. 9.15/hr is a poverty wage in Aberdeen. Unless you live rent-free with mommy and daddy, you’re a broke sad story with no means to get out of here because you can’t afford to move.

  3. MOSES 2016-04-13 19:38

    I agree with you but those republicans want low wages. I seen a bill board in Sioux falls thousands of jobs yeah right all probably minimum wage.

  4. Don Coyote 2016-04-13 22:10

    @Moses: That’s a load of crap. “Market” minimum wage in Sioux Falls is now around $11-$12. Even fast food restaurants are paying that much. Drove past a Taco Johns today advertising $12@hr on their menu board. I believe WalMart and McDonalds and anybody else in need of employees in SF are in the same boat. Don’t need a government mandated minimum wage in SF.

  5. Mike Kokenge 2016-04-14 07:17

    Don’t need a government mandated minimum wage in SF? Oh yes we do mr coyote. Lets discuss Jane Sixpack first. She is an office assistant here in SF. 12,790 Janes just like her make less than $14 an hour. 6,400 make less than $11.50 an hour. 2,560 are considered entry level and make $9.90 an hour.

    Suppose Jane is married to Joe Sixpack who is one of the 5,055 production workers in SF who makes less than $14.50 an hour. Or maybe Joe is one of the 2,530 production workers here who makes less than $12.64 an hour. Or maybe he is one of the entry level guys in this group of 1,010 who makes $10.89 an hour.

    Do not wonder why half the kids in SF are on free or reduced school lunch programs. Do not wonder why they cannot afford to buy a home. I recall in 1974 we bought our starter house for $15,000. Two story 3 bedroom 2 bath 3 blocks west of Sanford hospital. Saw that same old house for sale 3 years ago for $160,000. WTH? What Joe and Jane starting out today can afford that BS?

    So do not wonder WHY so many disgruntled working class Joe’s are turning to Bernie or trump. They’re pissed. The great trickle down theory thrown at them since saint ronald was president in 1980 is nothing more than a trickle UP scam.

  6. Darin Larson 2016-04-14 08:20

    The trickle down theory is the rich urinating on the poor. This may be a tangent, but it is of interest to me.

    It reminds me of supply side economics. The theory being to give tax incentives to wealthy folks who will invest that money (in theory) in production of goods and services to create jobs. It is supposed to stimulate economic growth.

    In the real world, giving those tax incentives to the poor and middle class is much more effective to stimulate economic growth. The poor and most of the middle class these days spend every extra dollar they get which stimulates economic growth which translates into more jobs and higher wages. Contrast that with the supply side policies which favor the rich who simply can pocket the money and park it on the sidelines of the economy, or these days, put it offshore.

    It should be fairly intuitive: build it and consumers might not come and buy it, so the rich may never decide to supply it. Demand side policies mean consumers have the money to buy more widgets which means businesses hire more workers. The hiring of more workers generally drives wages up and consumers have more money to spend. And the business owner prospers as well. And round and round we go!

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