Rural North Dakota Job Growth Falling Behind Other Rural Parts of the Country

A comparison of job rates between November 2018 and November 2019 shows rural North Dakota job growth lags behind other rural parts of the country. The information collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was broken down by an online publication called The Daily Yonder and put into an interactive map. Why is rural North Dakota falling behind?

According to the data compiled by the federal government, only six of the “non-metro” counties in North Dakota added jobs over the year. Forty-three of the state’s counties are reported to have lost jobs over the year. Compare this to our neighboring states in the upper-Midwest and it begs the question why is North Dakota worse off in comparison?

The North Dakota job map is as red as the electoral map in 2018. Why? Is it simply the shifting of population and jobs from rural to “metro” areas? Did the jobs migrate before the population? Or did the population leave and the jobs followed? Certainly, the trend of people moving from smaller, rural communities to larger, metro areas aren’t isolated to North Dakota. There has to be more behind it.

There are a number of factors that may contribute to North Dakota falling behind in rural job growth. The agriculture economy has slowed down. Terrible weather, prolonged trade war, low commodity prices, and the tearing down of the renewable fuel standard all have impacted our farmers. The ripple effects of the down agriculture economy don’t stop at the end of the farmstead driveway. Perhaps it is already being felt on small-town main streets.

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Yet again, the down farm economy isn’t only impacting North Dakota. Other states that rely heavily on agriculture appear to be in better shape than rural North Dakota. What are they doing differently?

I’m reminded of a poll released in September of 2019 by One Country Project and American Federation of Teachers which was conducted by Change America. The poll found 78% of North Dakotans believed small-town main streets were on the decline. The response from North Dakotans appears to match the data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If other rural states are also feeling the national trends of a down agriculture economy, and population migration to larger metro areas but still had job growth in their rural parts; what is North Dakota doing wrong? What is the missing piece in our state? Is it lack of a rural development plan?

One of the economic plans touted in election brochures and at TedTalk-like events is Governor Doug Burgum’s “Main Street Initiative.” That initiative seems to fall flat on the plains. At least that’s the case if you aren’t in a “metro” area like downtown Fargo where Burgum is heavily invested personally. Yet, it seems to be all the current state leadership is focused on.

Are politicians in North Dakota turning a blind eye to the rural struggle in North Dakota? Those same politicians should spare us the press releases bragging about higher tax collections because of oil activity and the mindless remarks repeating the word “jobs” while small towns continue to shrink and ultimately disappear. The final question, what have surrounding states figured out about rural job growth that North Dakota’s leaders appear to have missed?