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Good Jobs in SD, No Degree Needed

…But Better Degree Bonuses in Minnesota

Seth Tupper reports on a Georgetown study that finds that, in 2015, people without four-year degrees held 55% of the “good jobs” in South Dakota. The Georgetown researchers define “good jobs” as paying at least $35K per year for folks under 45 and at least $45K per year for old workers.

(Funny: by that metric, at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, being a first-year teacher was a “good job” for new college grads in only 18 of South Dakota’s 150 school districts and nowhere for folks over 44 jumping into teaching as a new career. Last year, base salary for teachers was above $35K in 129 districts and above $45K in one, Rapid City.)

Tupper says these data “dovetail” with Governor Dennis Daugaard’s persistent effort to discourage kids from pursuing silly university degrees like psychology and philosophy and go to vo-tech school for a two-year degree instead. I’m certainly happy to see evidence that South Dakota’s vo-tech grads are able to win a higher share of good jobs in South Dakota than they might elsewhere—nationally, folks with less than a four-year degree hold only 45% of the good jobs.

But maybe non-degree holders are able to get more of the “good jobs” in South Dakota because they don’t have as much competition from degree holders. According to the Georgetown study, only 31% of South Dakota’s workers have college degrees. In Minnesota, 39% of workers have BAs or better, and they hold 53% of the good jobs.

Degree holders may leave more good jobs for non-degree holders in South Dakota because earning a degree provides a much bigger boost to one’s earning power in other states. The Georgetown study says South Dakota workers have 11.8% more purchasing power than the national average. Minnesotans enjoy 2.6% better purchasing power than the national average. Check out the differences between median salaries—raw and adjusted for state purchasing power—for non-degree holders and degree holders, across all jobs and within the Georgetown “good jobs” subset:

Median Pay SD MN SD-adj MN-adj
all non-BA $30,000 $35,000 $33,540 $35,910
all non-BA in good jobs $52,000 $56,000 $58,136 $57,456
all BA $42,000 $59,000 $46,956 $60,534
all BA in good jobs $58,000 $72,000 $64,844 $73,872

Across all jobs, getting a four-year degree raises the median purchasing power 40% in South Dakota and 69% in Minnesota. Among the good jobs, South Dakota degree holders enjoy a 12% advantage in median purchasing power over their non-degree-holding competitors; in Minnesota, that BA advantage is 29%.

The Georgetown data support Governor Daugaard’s contention that you can get all sorts of good jobs in South Dakota without a college degree. But degree holders still tend to make more money, and degrees give workers an even bigger advantage in Minnesota.


  1. jerry 2018-01-16 19:40

    Stay away from higher education, pull lever. Stack pallets, pull lever. Wait for the automation robots to do it for you so all you then need do is watch it work for you. Oh wait, that is what the guy with the diploma gets to do. If you listen to Denny Daugaard, you will end up being as big a dummy as he is.

  2. Kurt Woodard 2018-01-17 05:54

    The Governor is partly correct (minus the “silly” reference). While I greatly value liberal art’s degrees, most employers don’t. The medium income for liberal arts majors in SD is between $9 to $12 per hour. A small percentage make more, but don’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors stats.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-01-17 06:07

    Kurt, do you have some citable stats to back up that $9–$12 claim?

  4. Jenny 2018-01-17 06:23

    Didn’t Wal-Mart just raise their starting wage to 14/hr? ( But the catch is they hire very few full time workers and they are going to go to all automated check outs I heard. Thus more layoffs coming.)
    I don’t know where Georgetown gets its statistics but can someone tell me WTH you can live in SD on
    $35000 yr and consider that a ‘good job’?

  5. Terry Sullivan 2018-01-17 09:25

    What may be forgotten within all these statistics is the fact that 3 out of 4 jobs do not require a 4 yr college degree. What this article proves is that not everyone needs a 4 yr degree to be economically successful. True, graduates with advanced degrees make more because their skill sets require more. Regardless of this continuing debate, the public is best served by a seamless transition from one educational level to another. Options must be available to everyone seeking required education and training. “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those that cannot read nor write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler

  6. o 2018-01-17 09:31

    First, how did $45,000 become the tipping point for a “good job” for someone that has been employed for 24 – 27 years? Seventeen years away from retirement and making $45K is good? MIT’s Living Wage calculator puts the Minimum Living Wage for SD at $45,000.

    This data is a condemnation of the jobs in SD. How many “good jobs” are available for each category? To me the data says that even if you take action (expensive action) to put yourself in a position to get a batter job, you wasted that by staying in SD because there is no better job to advance into.

  7. Jenny 2018-01-17 09:47

    Terry, what this article proves is that the people from Georgetown have probably never had to live on $35000/yr. I’d like to know someone in SD that makes $35000/yr admit that that is a ‘good job’. I guess if it keeps one out of the poverty level that is considered successful these days? Come on people. Good grief, as Cory would say!

  8. Donald Pay 2018-01-17 10:04

    The study indicates that these “good jobs” are now in financial services and various health care areas that require some post-secondary education. Many of those jobs are dead end. You can’t go much higher unless you get further training. You will get your cost of living raises, and maybe bonuses along the way, but be prepared to save some of that $35,000 to pay for additional education or retraining later.

    And, really, $35,000 is barely making it for a family of four with one income earner. It is just a thousand or so dollars above the Medicaid cut off. If that wage earner didn’t have access to employer-based health insurance, the family would be in trouble. Also, that person would not likely be able to afford a mortgage.

    I realize $35,000 sounds like a “good job” to young people used to “survival” wages, but it’s a salary that will not let anyone go up the ladder of success. That person will be stuck at lower middle class levels.

  9. Terry Sullivan 2018-01-17 10:18

    Jenny, while $35,000 is not the ideal, it can be the starting wage for a technical school graduate which in my mind is a step up from anyone not possessing a marketable skill. Multiply that times two for a married couple which seems to be the norm (two-wage income) nowadays, and that is closer to becoming a comfortable income. While it’s always been true in South Dakota that employers need to pay more, it’s apparent the law of supply and demand is beginning to have an affect when everyone now seems to be noticing with concern the lack of skilled workers in the state. I recall times when that wasn’t the case.

  10. o 2018-01-17 10:35

    Terry, I agree that the concern about the number of skilled workers in SD is getting attention, but that attention is to create more supply without increasing salaries. Shifts to more vocational education post-HS — at the expense of the student — and more apprenticeships in the HS — at the expense of the state — undermine the employers’ need to increase salary. Employers have outsourced the costs for training and the responsibility for having trained workers.

  11. Donald Pay 2018-01-17 10:45

    I agree with Terry. It’s a good “starting wage” for a single person or for a two-earner family. I know two people right now doing those jobs at a hospital. They mostly work the night shift, but their schedule varies. They don’t think the jobs are so great. They can live in a decent apartment, but they are constantly short of sleep, and have no life outside their jobs. They are young, and willing to put up with it for a while, but something will have to change when they want to have children.

    Another person I know in a similar position went back to school to get a nursing degree, because her tech degree was going to keep her stuck. She will graduate into a pretty decent job. She will face bad hours in a hospital setting, but thinks she can work into clinic work when she wants to have kids.

  12. jerry 2018-01-17 11:59

    I think what may be missed is that the $35,000.00 dollar job may be the end of what a worker might expect over long term employment. If the employee haggles to much with the employer, the employer can then just let him go and hire another for around that figure. With an educated workforce, like Germany as an example, employers are more likely to pay more as the experience in their company mounts. Oh, and add the union in to make sure of it. We should remember how that worked in Tennessee with Bob Corker leading the charge to make sure that the wages were static with the rest of the neighboring states, denying VW the right to pay higher wages. Corker succeeded, but Germany proves that an educated work force, along with strong union backing can produce 3 times as much production for less cost and more job satisfaction.

    South Dakota is a right to starve state so the employer can deal with you as he or she deems the mood of the day. The employee can then go pound sand as that is about as much satisfaction as you will get in any kind of arbitration, if it goes that far.

  13. o 2018-01-17 12:54

    Jerry, I don’t think that Monster article was talking about SD opportunities, and therein lies the problem: we have the institutions that SHOULD provide better opportunity, but in the confides of SD, those career opportunities are not available. That circles us back to the brain-drain criticism of our state.

    Maybe that is why the state is OK with the increasing costs of Liberal Arts/University education: they are not beholden to any industry to provide jobs with liberal arts degrees, so that degree can remain less supported.

  14. Jen 2018-01-17 13:35

    Employers need to do away with checking credit scores to decide if a person is worth hiring. I graduated with Honors and cannot get a job in my field. No wonder there’s a workforce shortage.

  15. jerry 2018-01-17 14:05

    o, that may be, but we are a state that tourism is dominant and one of those big line items relates to that. South Dakota does have the ability to strive for more and not be content with jobs that are short lived type’s of work. What it appears is that Denny and his crew are more than willing to just offer CAFO’s and welding jobs than jobs that will keep the majority of our educated students here and those are dependent upon immigrant labor. I still see renewable energy as a powerful source of employment for not only the workers involved in erecting them, but the maintenance workers and the ones that plot the demands for other parts of the state and country where the power is needed. Young people already get the idea that they can be a welder if they want that work, but there is more that they want to pursue and the state is not willing to invest in that. We go the extra mile for corruption though.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-01-17 15:04

    Jen, I’m inclined to agree. In general, I’d say how you spend your money and how much of it you spend is none of your employer’s business. All the employer needs to know is that you’ll work hard for the money.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-01-27 06:36

    Hey, Terry, I hold no such illusion to dispel. I think vocational education is great… especially when I need someone to fix my pipes or fix my car. No dead end in honest work of any sort.

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