Posted 10/27/15 (Tue)
By Cecile Krimm
North Dakota is now the fourth youngest state per capita in the country, behind only Utah, Alaska and Texas, with the likelihood of overtaking Utah in the near future.
It’s a dramatic change from 15 years ago, when counties like Divide led the nation in out-migration and aging.
A presentation from a state census expert last week in Crosby, to members of the Vision West ND Consortium board, looked at the indicators painting a bright future for North Dakota.
“The largest percentage change has been here in the Williston region by far,” said Kevin Iverson, Census Office Manager with the North Dakota Department of Commerce.
“What’s the probability your next door neighbor is someone new? Pretty good,” he said.
Every county in the state has gained population in the 20-34 age bracket -- to which 84 percent of all children are born.
“It reinforces the need for childcare,” said Iverson. “By my calculations, it’s going to be a greater need with time.”
KayCee Lindsey, community developer for Divide County, sits on the Vision West board and was heartened by Iverson’s validation of a more youthful culture.
“That’s the trend and it’s just continuing to get younger,” said Lindsey.
In slide after slide he presented Tuesday last week, the overall message?
“We’re becoming a younger state.”
Dramatic by any measure
It remains to be seen how falling oil prices will affect the trend, but Iverson sees reason for continued optimism in the state.
He began his presentation by showing long term trends, showing how North Dakota’s population remained almost level from 1930 forward, always hovering between 600,000 and 700,000 people. He then zeroed in on statistics from 1980 forward to illustrate some dramatic shifts.
Between 1970 and 1980, he said, only 17 of 53 counties gained population. Between 1980 and 1990, only six counties saw any growth and the state lost 14,000 people. The story was virtually the same between 1990 and 2000.
Around 2007, however, things changed. The population began to grow, with 11 counties starting to gain population. By 2012, that figure had tripled, with 33 counties gaining people.
“So, for the first time in a very long time, we have more counties gaining population than losing population,” he said.
As of 2014, only 17 counties were showing a population loss -- a complete 180 compared to 1980, with total population pegged at 739,000 residents.
“That’s not the number of people who are physically here, but how many people who claim North Dakota as their primary residence,” he said.
He also acknowledges that the smaller the statistical sample, and North Dakota is a smaller state, the more dramatic population shifts will appear.
Natural rate is a factor
Also favorably impacting population in North Dakota for the first time in decades is the “natural rate” of population change. More people are being born in North Dakota than are dying -- 17,000 more births than deaths between 2010 and 2014.
However, with three-quarters of the state’s growth coming from people moving in from other states, it’s difficult to project a long term trend.
One positive indicator is the number of jobs available compared to job takers.
“Our labor force is shrinking some,” Iverson said, but the unemployment rate is still only 2.2 percent.
While in recent years there were 10 jobs posted for every 3 people available to work, today that ratio is 10 jobs for 4 people.
“So even with this slow down we still have jobs available,” he said.
Demographics point policy makers toward some interesting trends.
Three phenomenons Iverson notes are the dearth of 14 year olds in the state; the likelihood that a majority of 23-year-olds were not born here; and a clear path of out-migration for those in the 65-plus age range.
“The smallest single year cohort is 14,” he said, which means the ability of today’s teens to find work in North Dakota is very good. There just aren’t many teens competing for after school jobs.
Likewise, he said, if you find a 23-year-old, “there’s almost a one in two chance they were born someplace else,” based on the growth in that age cohort beyond the number of births North Dakota recorded in 1992.
Troubling however, are indications of a steady decline in people age 65 and older. Based on the data, those people are moving one of three places -- either to Bismarck, Fargo, or out-of-state.
North Dakota is growing younger not only because of the increase in population in the 20-34 age group -- now the largest age group in the state and the higher per capita of all states in the nation -- but because older people with lifelong ties are leaving.
Iverson said indications in 2015 are that housing is becoming a constraint on further migration into North Dakota.
Also of concern, he said, is the fact childcare is now taking about 30 percent of household income.
“People are having children because they’re comfortable having children, they feel like they can afford it,” he said, but if childcare costs can’t be made more affordable, it will continue to impact the availability of parents in the work force.
While the State Data Center used to be housed at North Dakota State University, Iverson said the governor chose in 2012 to make the center part of the Department of Commerce.
The Vision West ND Consortium is a planning group with representation from all 19 oil and gas producing counties in North Dakota. That board has set transportation, childcare and housing as its top priorities.