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Published January 09 2014

Forum editorial: Historic population rise in ND

The last time, and only time in history until now, that North Dakota’s population came close to 700,000 was in 1930. Eighty-four years ago, the state counted 680,845 residents. New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau put today’s count at just over 723,000, an all-time high.

Those are astonishing numbers, made even more startling in that the bureau’s estimate of growth from just last year is slightly less than 24,000. In one year!

What’s going on? The easy answer is that the influx of people into the booming Oil Patch in western North Dakota is fueling a population boom. There’s no doubt about the oil factor. But population is up nearly everywhere in the state, accompanied by yet another startling set of numbers that reveal the birth rate is up and the state’s median age is somewhere between 37 and 38. A couple of eastern counties – far removed from oil country – are among the youngest in the state.

The new youthful look of the state in 2014 is in stark contrast to the situation a few years ago when the state’s population was one of the oldest in the nation and getting older. The state still has a significant and growing senior population, but the young cohort that was shrinking for decades is back and also is growing.

A broad reading of the statistics suggests the state’s overall economy has diversified and is expanding. That means young people can find good-paying jobs – certainly in oil communities but elsewhere also. The diversification includes everything from value-added agriculture to technology companies, from health care to higher education, from finance to commercial and residential building, from retailing to manufacturing. The nation-leading low jobless rate is confirmation of the employment picture.

It’s a truly historic time in North Dakota. Only a handful of old-timers are alive to remember the days when the population was as high as it is today. A few years after 1930, the Great Depression and Dust Bowl condemned North Dakota to a multi-decade downward population spiral. Now the spiral is upward, as measured by nearly every economic and social calculation. That’s news as good as it gets.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.