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North Dakota is fastest-growing state, thanks to oil boom

Jim Urquhart / Reuters file

Brian Waldner is covered in mud and oil while wrestling a pipe from a True Company oil drilling rig outside Watford, N.D., Oct. 20, 2012. Many people have moved to North Dakota to work in oil drilling.

While America’s population growth remained flat, an oil boom drew hordes of job-seekers to North Dakota, making it the fastest-growing state over the past year, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday.


North Dakota’s population climbed by 2.17 percent between July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2012 -- a pace nearly three times faster than that of the nation as a whole, the bureau said.

The Peace Garden State wound up with roughly 15,000 more people than it had the year before – largely because of people moving there from other states.


“We’ve all heard about the fracking and oil production and mining. There is a real influx for jobs,” said Census Bureau demographer Katrina Wengert.

North Dakota Commerce Commissioner Al Anderson says the "fastest-growing" designation isn’t surprising, given that the state has been steadily adding jobs over much of the past decade. The state has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 3.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

And it’s not just oil. Agriculture is big business in North Dakota, and advanced manufacturing, technology-based businesses and tourism also have grown, Anderson said.

“We currently have about 22,000 job openings in North Dakota today. Of those, only a third are in our 17 oil-and gas-producing counties,” he said. "It’s more than just oil, but it’s oil that put us on map in the national press.”

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Following North Dakota in terms of percent increase over the same period were the District of Columbia (2.15 percent), Texas (1.67 percent), Wyoming (1.60 percent), Utah (1.45 percent) and Nevada (1.43 percent). North Dakota ranked only 37th in growth between the 2000 and 2010 censuses and climbed to sixth between 2010 and 2011. Each of the 10 fastest-growing states were in the South or West with the exception of North Dakota and South Dakota. 

The only two states to lose population between July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2012, were Rhode Island (-354 people or -0.03 percent) and Vermont (-581 or -0.09 percent).

Williston, North Dakota, a once sleepy prairie land, has turned into a place with thousands of available jobs. An oil boom has led to an influx in the town's population and jobs. Rock Center's Harry Smith reports.

According to the Census Bureau, America as a whole saw its population increase by 2.3 million from 2011 to 2012, to 313.9 million, for a growth rate of just 0.75 percent.

“The growth rate in the U.S. has picked up just a little bit from last year. Still, it’s one of the lowest U.S. growth rates since the Great Depression,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution. 

However, the numbers do suggest “a glimmer of comeback fever” for the Mountain West and Southeast, regions that have been struggling with the housing bust and high unemployment in recent years, Frey said.

“It’s not like people are moving around a lot, but we do see the tip of the iceberg of the Sun Belt coming back.”

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