What happened to America? That's the question that's been on my mind.
Before the pandemic struck, America was experiencing a resurgence in global economic and political strength that hadn't been seen since World War II. We had the lowest unemployment rate in more than 50 years -- including record-high employment rates for Black and Hispanic Americans. We became the global leader in energy production. We were the third-largest exporter of cars and the second-largest producer of auto parts. It's simple -- we were putting America first.
Today, gas prices are surging, energy production has plummeted, and car dealerships are buying back two-year-old cars to keep their inventory stocked. The president is begging foreign companies to sell us oil and gas. Shutting down the world economy splintered the supply chain, too. And the Biden Administration's spending policies have caused historic inflation, crushing the modern family.
Not only are we depending on other countries for oil production, but we're also depending on them for our food supply. European countries are providing life-sustaining baby formula for America's infants. Two of the four mega-beef packers are Brazilian-owned companies. China is buying up land and our chemical companies, and they're producing our fertilizer.
What happened? Where did it all go so horribly wrong?
For starters, governments in other states jumped at the chance to seize power and crippled state and local economies. Then there was a change in leadership in Washington, D.C. On President Biden's first day in office, thousands of South Dakotans and others working on the Keystone XL pipeline had their jobs taken away by the stroke of Biden's pen. The damage didn't stop there, either.
The curtailing of domestic drilling further hindered our energy dominance. Biden's restrictions on timber are directly affecting West River jobs and sawmills and causing a cascading effect on the rising cost of home construction -- another pain point driving historic inflation.
Despite all this, South Dakota is continuing to push back and provide solutions to stop these conditions from eroding or erasing our state's economic gains.
Over the past two years, South Dakotans' personal income has grown more than in any other state. During the pandemic, I fought to keep businesses open. That kept our economy rolling. We kept our citizens working, avoiding the catastrophic workforce issues other states are facing.
In the process, we made South Dakota one of the top tourist destinations in the country. Unlike other states, we did such a great job promoting South Dakota -- and our dedication to freedom -- that we're seeing hundreds of businesses move here. That created even more demand for skilled workers, which is raising wages.
Last month, I joined other governors to call for fewer restrictions on ethanol production to slow the increase in gas prices. I have also joined nearly two dozen governors in pushing back against the Biden Administration's anti-American approach to energy. South Dakota gave out grant funding to small- and medium-sized meat processors to provide more competitive market options for our Stockgrowers. Last week, I announced that we are investing in apprenticeship startups to get more companies training their next generation of employees straight out of high school and college.
In the last three years, we have increased funding to help our working moms and young families get a better start in life. This includes expanding the Bright Start program from a small pilot program to a statewide initiative to help new moms get training and assistance to raise a strong family. And we've put more funding towards mental health, including regional mental health centers so that South Dakotans in crisis can get the care they need close to home.
America used to pride itself on being a global leader. Other nations looked to us to solve problems. Through our efforts, we lifted entire generations out of poverty across the world by laying the foundation for industry in developing nations.
Maybe it's time we put some of those practices back to work here at home. It's working for South Dakota. I know by working together, we can restore the American spirit of innovation across the country. We can put America first, again, which will benefit South Dakota families.