So far in my compilation of economic facts that call into question Governor Kristi Noem’s repeated claim that “South Dakota has the strongest economy in the nation,” I have cited the following facts:
- South Dakota’s per-capita personal income has been below the national average for eight of the last ten years.
- South Dakota’s per-capita personal income has grown more slowly than national per-capita personal income over the past ten years.
- Governor Noem’s Bureau of Finance and Management projects that South Dakota’s real gross domestic product will grow more slowly than the national real GDP in both 2021 and 2022.
- Sixteen states and the District of Columbia generate more GDP per capita than South Dakota.
- South Dakota’s economy has generated less state budget surplus per capita than the Minnesota economy, despite South Dakota’s receiving far more federal coronavirus relief/stimulus money per capita than Minnesotans.
- Five states have lower unemployment rates than South Dakota.
Yesterday I noticed statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that provide a seventh metric to demonstrate that South Dakota fails to live up to Noem’s claim of the state’s absolute economic supremacy. From November 2020 to November 2021, South Dakota tied Maine and Alaska for the second-lowest rate of nonfarm job growth in the U.S.:
Nationwide, the number of jobs grew by 3.8%; in South Dakota (and Maine, and Alaska), jobs grew by only 1.8%. Only Wyoming added jobs more slowly, at a mere 0.6% over the last twelve months.
I tweeted this observation yesterday—”South Dakota tied Maine and Alaska for second-lowest job growth over last 12 months. ‘Strongest economy in the nation,’ @govkristinoem?“—and evidently the seventh data point is the charm for getting the attention of the Governor’s Office. Governor Noem unleashed her Fury—spokesperson Ian Fury—with this Twitter response this morning:
12 months ago, South Dakota’s unemployment rate was already down to 3.6%, lower than the nation’s is TODAY.
Are you wilfully misleading or just economically illiterate? Given your liberal proclivities, I think the latter is far more likely [Ian Fury, Twitter response, 2021.12.29].
I appreciate Fury’s British spelling of wilfully. It’s more fun debating posh conservatives, almost Buckleyesque. My appreciation ends here.
I have you six responses.
- My opponent does not respond to my central point: “the strongest economy in the nation” ought to be creating jobs at a faster rate than all the allegedly weaker state economies. From November 2020 to November 2021, South Dakota’s economy did not do that. South Dakota’s economy thus does not appear to be the strongest in the nation.
- My opponent attempts to change the subject to the unemployment rate, which is a very different statistic that does not refute the point I make. The fact that South Dakotans did not lose jobs at as high a rate as the rest of the nation in 2020 is not a sign that South Dakota has the strongest economy in the nation in 2021.
- South Dakota traditionally lags behind national economic trends and does not swing as far in either national busts or national booms. Less variance in our unemployment rate may indicate a more stable economy, but it does not prove a stronger economy, let alone the strongest. Stability may just mean South Dakota’s economy is stagnant.
- I will grant that South Dakota’s unemployment is really low and that that’s a good thing. But in my #6 at the top, I’ve already established that several other states have even lower unemployment. Clinging to that metric does not save the Governor’s argument that we have “the strongest economy in the nation.”
- While it’s not my burden to make my opponent’s arguments for him, my opponent may be trying to say that we must look at job creation rates in context, that the higher rates of job creation almost everywhere else only show other states recovering the much greater numbers of jobs that they lost due to coronavirus in 2020 than South Dakota did. But historically, if we compare November 2021 job numbers with Novembers in 2019, 2011, 2001, 1991, and 1981, we find that South Dakota’s job creation over those varying periods is sometimes higher and sometimes lower than the national average but has never been the highest—i.e., strongest—in the nation. So no matter how long a span we consider—one year, ten years, forty years—South Dakota’s job growth never supports Governor Noem’s claim that we have “the strongest economy in the nation.”
- The second half of my opponent’s response, an all-too-quick turn from the facts on the flow to his opponent’s intent and character, refutes none of the data or reasoning I have presented. Our political proclivities have no bearing on the economic data in question, and my argument has nothing to do with my assumptions about Fury’s character or intent. My argument boils down to, “Independent economic data show South Dakota’s economy performing with less strength than other states’ economies.” My opponent’s argument, and his employer’s, boils down to, “Our saying something makes it so, and you’re a bastard for questioning us.” My position is superior not only factually but logically and rhetorically.
I thank the Governor’s Office for providing me with a diverting Wednesday evening. I will welcome the Governor’s Office to stop making ridiculously absolute claims about the economy that a multitude of economic data clearly refute.