You people up there in South Dakota are a tough bunch. You know how to live off the land, many of you hunt, and most of you have a gun. You have beautiful landscapes and, of course, one of the coolest national monuments in the nation.
Plus, you’re way better than North Dakota.
Is it all rosy in SoDak? Of course not. Just like every other state, South Dakota has its least desirable spots. The purpose of this post is to use science and data to determine which places are the worst you could possibly live in if you make South Dakota your home.
After analyzing 36 of the state’s most populous cities (over 2,100 people), we came up with this list as the 10 worst places to live in the state of South Dakota:
What? Where are these places you wonder? And before you get all riled up and say we’re picking on small town America, that’s not the case.
We understand there’s a lot of good in every place.
However, according to data (which doesn’t measure things like beauty and ‘friendly people’), there are far better options in the state for making a place home. And the worst place to live in South Dakota? That would be Flandreau.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2021.
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The 10 Worst Places To Live In South Dakota For 2021
Crime is a factor in Flandreau’s ranking. Among cities over 2,000 (and excluding towns on Native American land), Flandreau has the highest crime rate in South Dakota. Considering that it’s just outside of (but not within) an Indian Reservation, you can understand why crime might be so high here.
People in South Dakota are used to not locking their doors. Not here.
The unemployment rate (5.4%) and home prices ($100,800) are also far below the state average.
Flandreau is located north of Sioux Falls.
Belle Fourche sounds more like the name of a Paris cafe than a small town in South Dakota. And, in fact, the name does derive from French, meaning “beautiful fork.” (Still seeming like a good name for a cafe…) The fork in question refers to the intersection of a couple rivers.
Despite its fancy-sounding name, Belle Fourche is less than Paris chic. In fact, life in the area is kind of a grind. The town has an unemployment rate of 7.2%, few amenities, little diversity, and unimpressive housing.
The town does have another distinction, though. It sits near the geographic center of the U.S., a fact commemorated in town by the Geographic Center of the Nation Monument.
Milbank is on Route 12 north of Watertown near the Minnesota state line. Here, it’s really hard to find jobs, as a 4.4% unemployment rate is the 2nd highest in South Dakota. Residents here earn far less than their South Dakota peers when it comes to annual income levels.
Plus, homes are valued at $98,000, which is the 9th lowest valuation in the state. Maybe that’s a reason Milbank’s population has shrunk nearly 9% in the last 10 years.
Canton sits along the Big Sioux River, just across the border from Iowa. Though not an official suburb of Sioux Falls, only a half-hour drive separates the town from South Dakota’s biggest city.
Defying the usual expectations for this list, Canton doesn’t suffer from a weak economy. In fact, with a 3.4% unemployment rate and a $62,045 median income, the commercial part of community functions rather well.
The town falls short in other realms, however. Specifically, amenities are scarce in town (unless you want to make the trek into Sioux Falls). At the same time, diversity is thin and housing often disappoints.
Huron ranks as the 5th worst place to live in South Dakota for 2021, let’s take a look at why.
Jobs are plentiful in Huron. Unfortunately, so is crime. The unemployment rate hovers at a miniscule 1.6%, a sign of the area’s relatively strong economy. Still, the crime rate runs nearly 20% above the national average.
There are other signs of trouble for the town. Despite the abundance of jobs, the poverty rate still hovers at around 20%. Housing and education are also questionable.
Despite these challenges, life in Huron, located in the east-central part of the state, comes with its share of whimsy. Just check out the World’s Largest Pheasant to see what we mean.
Sisseton sits in the Lake Traverse Reservation in the northeast part of the state. It represents the main population center in the region, with the nearest urban area of any consequence being Fargo, North Dakota. And that’s located about an hour and a half to the north.
Given that Sisseton has 2,468 residents, you can guess that the surrounding countryside is pretty sparsely settled. As a result, good-paying jobs are scarce. Sisseton struggles with a 7.1% unemployment rate and a poverty rate of 20.7%.
At the same time, the education system falls short of expectations. None of the local schools scores better than a 3/10 on Great Schools.
Box Elder stands just south of Ellsworth Air Base. The proximity of the military installation gives the town an economic boost, helping the town achieve an unemployment rate of 2.7%. At the same time, the median income comes in at $53,382.
Still, the town ends up on this list. If the economy isn’t the issue, what makes it one of the worst spots in South Dakota?
Well, compared to the rest of the state, the cost of living is relatively high. This includes a median home value of $160,700 — not particularly expensive for the U.S. as a whole, but well above the norm for South Dakota. Meanwhile, the crime rate in town is elevated as well.
Sure, Custer is a pretty place. Tucked in the middle of the Black Hills Mountains south of Rapid City, the folks who live there would probably defend it to their deaths. But science says it’s not very desirable, based on what people say they ‘want’ in a community.
Custer residents earn the 4th lowest salaries and are the 4th least employed in South Dakota. Crime is above average and home prices are below average. The schools are rated great, though.
So if you like living in the outdoors, and want smart kids, but can handle the fact that you won’t earn a decent living and have to put up with more robberies than most of your SoDak peers, this might be the place for you.
South Dakota isn’t known for its giant metropolitan areas. Empty prairies, yes. Giant stone president heads, of course. But cosmopolitan urban areas, not so much. Still, every state has its biggest city. For South Dakota, that’s Sioux Falls.
For the most part, the community has a lot going for it. The city boasts a hearty economy, including a 3.0% unemployment rate and a $59,912 median income. Housing, diversity, and education all have strong ratings as well.
Still, as a major urban area (at least for South Dakota), Sioux Falls faces some of the problems associated with larger cities. The crime rate, for instance, tracks at 40% above the U.S. norm.
You’d expect more from a place called “Winner.” Yet, here it is, on a list of the least appealing locations in South Dakota. Guess you can’t trust the hype.
So what makes Winner such a loser? The economy is actually pretty good. And, with a median home price of $100,700, housing in town is easy to afford.
Still, little things weigh down the area. Housing is poor. The local schools can’t score better than a 4/10 on Great Schools. And, located almost three hours from Sioux Falls (or any other bigger metropolitan area), there isn’t much to do in town.
How we determined the worst places to live in South Dakota for 2021
To figure out how bad a place is to live in, we only needed to know what kinds of things people like and then decide what cities have the least amount of those things.
We don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that people like the following things:
- Good education
- Lots of jobs
- Low crime
- Low poverty
- Nice homes
- High incomes
- High population density (Lots of things to do)
- Short work commutes
- Health insurance
We broke crime down into violent crime and property crime to give violent crime a larger weight — if you did a simple calculation of all crimes per capita, property crimes are normally 7x more common and really bias that ranking.
Furthermore, only cities with at least 2,000 people were considered — leaving 36 cities.
We then ranked each city from 1 to 36 for all the criteria with a #1 ranking being the worst for the particular criteria.
Next, we averaged the rankings into one “Worst Place To Live Score”.
Finally, we ranked every city on the “Worst Place To Live Score” with the lowest score being the worst city in South Dakota — Flandreau. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in South Dakota. You can download the data here.
This list is a scientific analysis based on real data and is completely unbiased.
Wrapping Up The Worst In South Dakota
If you’re looking at areas in South Dakota with the worst economic situations, where there’s higher than average crime, and not a lot to do, this is an accurate list.
And in the end, Flandreau ranks as the worst city to live in South Dakota for 2021.
If you’re curious enough, here are the best cities to live in South Dakota:
- Tea (Pop. 5,397)
- Dell Rapids (Pop. 3,660)
- Brandon (Pop. 9,934)
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Where Are The Worst Places To Live In South Dakota?