What is the importance of the oil industry to employment in North Dakota? This is a really good question, and one that is not necessarily the easiest to answer. In the last year this same question generated all kinds of arguments about the relative importance of agriculture versus oil in the North Dakota economy. That debate is not the purpose of this post though.
I looked at county level data for North Dakota over the last year (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). North Dakota saw employment increase by 11,377 from September 2013 to September 2014 (the September 2014 number is preliminary). That was a 2.88% increase in employment. Some may celebrate that increase, however for me it still represents the labor supply constraint in North Dakota at this time.
There are 4 core oil counties and 17 total oil counties in North Dakota right now. The core counties accounted for 51% of the increased employment. The largest increase was in Williams County where there was 22.5% increase in employment in the last year. The 17 county employment increase was 76%, so most of the increase is due to these counties.
Now it is a bit of a leap to tie all that employment increase to oil, directly or indirectly, but clearly the bulk of it would be tied to that industry in some way. Truth be told, increased employment in much of the state can likely be tied, without too many degrees of separation, to the oil economy at this time.