Inflation hurts the lowest-earning South Dakotans the most

When Tyson Wade of Britton, SD moved to Sioux Falls in 2021, he never expected that even with a stable job he would struggle financially and be on the verge of homelessness.

But like everyone in South Dakota and across the United States, Wade is feeling the effects of stubborn economic inflation that is driving up the costs of basic necessities and having a far greater impact on young adults. in entry-level positions, people with low-wage jobs or those living on fixed incomes.

Wade, 20, works as an overnight storekeeper at a Hy-Vee grocery store. When he moved to town, he signed a lease for an apartment in northeast Sioux Falls with two roommates, splitting the $900 monthly rent payment three ways. Recently, each roommate’s share of rent increased by $50 a month — a smaller jump than many other tenants across the state, but still a hefty new cost.

Yet, in addition to the increased rent, Wade is paying significantly more for groceries, utilities and other necessities than just a few months ago. Her grocery bill has risen the most, nearly doubling in recent months from around $80 to $140 a month.

“The meats are the most important thing; they are now about $7.29 a pound,” Wade said. “Paper towels, toilet paper, all of that went up by at least a dollar.”

Tyson Wade

While gasoline costs nearly $5 a gallon can be a big-budget expense for many South Dakotans, Wade is unable to drive due to an eye condition that affects his vision. Fuel and car insurance are not on his list of bills, but the lack of transportation also limits his housing options.

Wade is now looking for another living situation, but he and a potential roommate have been denied a new application at his current apartment complex due to income restrictions.

“You have to do more than three times the rent, so we couldn’t sign a new lease,” he said. Wade asked if a co-signer could help secure the lease, but the apartment manager said a co-signer must have a minimum credit score of 680 or earn well over three times the monthly rent, which will be difficult. for Wade. .

“We hope we can find a co-signer, otherwise I won’t live here anymore,” he said.

Wade isn’t the only South Dakota facing unexpected costs and tough choices. With the national inflation rate at 8.6% and the Midwest inflation rate at 8.8% at the end of June, the cost of living is rising rapidly and many people are scrambling to keep up.

The cost of food has risen 12% in South Dakota, causing many people to change their food budgets and pushing some on the economic margins to seek help with food or family.

As the prices of food and other goods continue to rise due to inflation, the resulting economic hardship is felt disproportionately by those with low incomes or those in entry-level jobs. Photo: News Watch file

Many communities have public food banks or distribution services available for those who may need help obtaining food. The Feeding South Dakota group, a statewide charitable food provider, is partnering with select local communities with a “mobile pantry” to meet growing needs. Feeding South Dakota has permanent food banks in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, but the organization’s website also helps users find mobile options closest to them.

Many other local organizations are also distributing food to people in need. First Families Now, based in Porcupine, SD, serves needy residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The group also organizes donation campaigns to provide essential items such as heaters and blankets, clothing and school supplies as well as many other programs. The group is working to bring more resources to the communities it serves, including providing a tutor to local children, offering various activity classes and focusing on healthy lifestyles and healing, said Executive Director Alice Phelps.

Phelps said the group continues to provide food and aid to families in need, but has recently seen a drop in donations and people willing to donate as inflation continues to drive up costs. for everyone.

“I used to get a lot of cash checks and stuff to help out, and I hardly ever get anything like that anymore,” Phelps said. “The burden of donations also seemed to ease. When we distribute food boxes, they aren’t as full as they used to be because I want to make sure we distribute them evenly. »

Rising transportation costs – both in terms of high gas prices and higher costs of buying a vehicle – are also adding hardship to the lives of people on low or fixed incomes in South Dakota. With gas prices nearly doubling from a year ago, residents of communities served by First Families Now are unable to attend distribution events, preventing families from accessing the resources they need .

“Those who can’t get in, then we have my sons going to the communities,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are really, really, really poor. They don’t even have furniture in their house, let alone food, so we try to make sure we carry things for them.

Phelps said First Families Now is also planning to build “tiny homes” for those who need safe, affordable homes to address housing issues that have been made worse by inflation on Dakota reservations. from South.

INFLATION INCREASES THE COSTS OF NEEDS

Here’s a look at the average cost of some necessities in June 2022 compared to June 2021 in the United States, showing how inflation and other factors have put increased economic pressure on individuals and families to make ends meet.

Product Cost 2021 Cost 2022 Percentage increase

Gasoline $3.13 per gallon $4.77 per gallon 52%

Food $945 per month $1,193 per month 26%

Rent $1,899 per month $2,047 per month 8% Note: Rent is the national average for a 2 bedroom apartment; food cost is for US > family of four; sources include American Automotive Association, US Department of Agriculture, Rent.com

Across the state, housing has become more expensive with rising inflation, leaving some residents with few affordable options and others unable to afford to buy a home or rent an apartment.

Section 8 housing choice vouchers are an option available to eligible low-income families in some locations. These vouchers are funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and are awarded by local housing agencies. Currently, 23 local agencies are operating across the state to provide assistance through the voucher program. Twenty-six others offer affordable housing options through public housing programs.

Child care is another necessity for many South Dakota families, and it has recently become harder to obtain or maintain. Many child care providers in South Dakota are home-based or small-business, and they’ve also faced higher costs to provide services to parents and children.

Shipping costs for products have also become more expensive, leading to increased costs for products such as food, wipes and infant formula. Often, these higher costs are passed on to clients who may already be struggling to afford the child care needed to care for children while maintaining employment.

Nicole Jones, who runs BumbleBee Daycare in Marshall County, SD, said she’s had to deal with increases in groceries and water and electric bills. These additional expenses, coupled with shortages of many goods and supplies, resulted in lost new enrollments and reduced hours of operation for many state daycares.

“We are losing children to rising prices, and people are not willing to pay [for childcare] because they can’t afford it,” Jones said.

First Families Now works with volunteers and community members to provide food and other necessities to those in need, but receives fewer donations and sees fewer volunteers in 2022. Photo: with the courtesy of First Families Now

Julio V. Miller