Oil Jobs Drive North Dakota to Lead US in Population Growth Again

James MacPherson

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota is once again leading the nation in population growth, and the number of residents in the state is at an all-time high, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau’s most recent estimate put the state population at 756,927 in July, an increase of 16,887 residents — or about 2.3% — compared to July 2014. That percentage, far higher than the national average, is largely driven by people in search of jobs in oil-rich western North Dakota.

The state has been the nation’s fastest-growing for the past four years, and was followed this year by Colorado, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Florida and Texas, according to the new census data. Seven states lost population over the same time period, including West Virginia, Illinois and Vermont.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he welcomed the growth in his state, which recorded decades of population decline before the oil boom attracted thousands of new residents in recent years. Since 2006, North Dakota has moved from the nation’s ninth-biggest oil producer to the second, behind only Texas.

“North Dakota’s economy continues to drive a dramatic shift in our demographics,” Dalrymple said in a statement Tuesday. “North Dakota’s population is growing, getting younger, and our citizens are taking advantage of more opportunities than ever before.”

In the early 2000s, North Dakota was one of only a few states with a declining population. The state began to reverse that trend in 2004, because of increased oil activity, and the population has grown every year since.

The state has about 15,000 more jobs than takers, along with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 2.7 percent, according to Job Service North Dakota data.

However, the oil industry has slumped in recent months because of weak crude prices, and the number of drill rigs has dropped about two-thirds from a year ago.

The number of oil field workers now unemployed due to layoffs is hard to measure. Many workers go back to the states they came from, while others move on to jobs in other fields that are open, said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota census office and the state demographer.

“Some people are moving out but it’s very possible some are finding jobs in other industries that had been desperately short in finding people,” Iverson said. “There are 15,000 jobs still open in the state. The question is, ‘Do you have a better opportunity here or someplace else?'”

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