Noem claims her state has the nation's top economy — but it's nowhere close

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The South Dakota governor cited a study showing the state was the best place 'to find a job,' but left out other data showing it trailing behind a large portion of the country.

South Dakota's Republican governor bragged on Friday that her state has the nation's top economy, despite recent rankings showing it is not even close.

"South Dakota has the strongest economy in America!" Kristi Noem tweeted. "South Dakotans have grit. They’re strong. And thanks to their hard work, South Dakota’s economy is strong, too."

She made the same claim in a press release, observing that "a recent study by Moody’s Analytics says that South Dakota is one of only 2 states to be in a stronger economic position than we were before the pandemic."

"Our unemployment rate of 2.8% — the lowest in America — means that every South Dakotan who wants a job should have little problem finding one. In fact, there are ten job openings available for every South Dakotan currently receiving unemployment," she added. "WalletHub took notice of this by declaring that South Dakota is the #1 ranked state in America to find a job right now."

But while WalletHub did say on Wednesday that South Dakota was the nation's best state "to find a job," it did not say that Noem's state is the best economy overall.

On Monday, the site ranked the nation's best and worst overall economies. Utah ranked first, Washington ranked second, and California ranked third. South Dakota came in at 33rd, behind 31 states and the District of Columbia. Noem made no mention of those rankings in her press release.

She also omitted a March ranking of the "best states for economy" by U.S. News and World Report. That analysis rated South Dakota 30th among 50 states and declared it the 43rd best business environment in the country.

An August 2020 analysis by USA Today that ranked South Dakota 18th overall.

Asked for evidence of Noem's claim, a spokesperson said in an email that "Moody's and CNN's 'Back to Normal Index' has South Dakota's economy at 104% of its pre-pandemic level, just one of 2 states to be above 100% in that metric," and referred back to her press release.

Unemployment rates in the state — which is home to approximately 884,659 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2019 estimate — have been low, in part, because Noem refused to implement health and safety measures to curb the coronavirus' spread — even at the worst points of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noem tried to turn that lack of response into a selling point last June, urging people to move to the state to avoid coronavirus safety rules. "There’s no governor in America that has trusted their people to make the right choices more than I have," she said. "If you want freedom, personal responsibility and a government that works for you, rather than dictates to you, South Dakota is the place to get it."

Due to that lack of action — and Noem's refusal to implement face mask requirements — South Dakota was one of the hardest-hit places in the country. More than 124,000 of her constituents tested positive — the third-worst rate, per capita, in the country — and more than 2,000 died (the ninth-worst rate in the nation).

Still, Noem claimed in October that her response to the pandemic was a great example of "Republican leadership."

"[M]y people are happy. They appreciated the fact that we didn't shut down their businesses, we allowed them to be flexible, take care of health, and protect the public — while still taking care of their customers and employees as well," she told Fox News. "So we're doing good [sic] in South Dakota. We're managing COVID-19. But also our economy is thriving."

In November, she scolded the national press for its coverage of the coronavirus' uncontrolled spread in her state.

"Now, some in the media are saying that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I'd encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center," she said. "There you’ll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per 100,000/1,000 people compared to South Dakota."

Noem was technically correct. At the time, South Dakota had the second highest number of cases per 100,000 people of any state, outranked only by its neighbor, North Dakota.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.