The recession brought tougher times for young adults across the nation. More people than ever are attending technical schools and colleges, but when they finish, some are having a difficult time finding jobs and repaying student loans.
While this has been a national phenomenon, the prospects for a young graduate are much, much better in South Dakota for a number of reasons.
First, we have the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.6 percent, compared to the national rate of 6.7 percent. We're second to only North Dakota (and they have oil).
Secondly, the tax burden in South Dakota is low. We are among only a few states without an income tax, meaning graduates keep more of the money they earn. Money that can repay student debt, buy a house someday or replace that car they drove to the ground in school.
Third, not only do young adults keep more of the money they earn in South Dakota, but that money will buy more here than in other places. Type "Regional Price Parity" into your web browser, and you will find the U.S. Department of Commerce report which shows South Dakotans have the lowest cost of living in the United States. We don't spend as much money on housing, insurance, food and the other everyday needs.
Now some people will say, "There may a low tax burden and low cost of living, but I won't get paid as much if I live in South Dakota." Actually, when it comes to per capita personal income, we fare pretty well. Nationally, we rank in the top half and we do better than states like Texas, Florida and Wisconsin.
And, if you adjust the per capita personal income to consider the low cost of living, we are the fifth best in the nation. If you adjust for lack of income taxes, we rank second in the nation.
Beyond the financial reasons, though, South Dakota is a great place to live because we have a good quality of life here. Our communities are safe, our public schools are high-quality and our people are friendly. We also have clean air, clean water and beautiful scenery.
After I graduated from USD, I hitchhiked my way to Chicago to attend law school at Northwestern. I'd lived in South Dakota my whole life and I was ready for something bigger, something more exciting. I wanted to experience life in the bright lights of a big city. So I finished school and decided to stay in Illinois for a few years to practice law. Still, over time, I came to miss seeing the stars at night, the wide open spaces and the friendly, down-to-earth people. I was glad to have experienced something new and different, but I was ready to come home to something better.
My hope for our young people is not that they would never venture out or leave for the big city, but rather that they would consider a future in South Dakota. Most of all, I hope that they will come to realize, as I did, that their dreams can come true right here at home.