North Dakota Population Change, Nature v. Nurture

I was thinking about North Dakota and the population shifts and changes of the the last few years. The economics of the state are so clearly connected to the population changes, which are clearly connected to the economic changes in the state too. There really is an intense and important feedback relationship between population and economics in this state in particular.

The major interest for me today is the relative importance of natural increase v. net migration. There are many factors that tie into each of these but successful and sustained population increase likely means you need to keep both of these at reasonable levels. Let’s be honest, North Dakota needs sustained population increase. There was a great deal of growth and development left on the table in the last upswing due to the lack of available labor resources. Currently there are more job openings in the state than unemployed people to fill them, so it is not getting better at some level despite the oil bust.

Where then do the net migration and natural increase numbers place the state? From 2011 to 2017 North Dakota natural increase was between 4.6 and 7.1 per 1,000 population. There was an uptick in births as the economy did better. However, the real gains came on the net migration side. From 2011 to 2015 the range for net migration was between 10.19 and 23.98 per 1,000 population. Even with the uptick in births the bulk of the population increase came from drawing in residents from outside the state or the country. (This measure from the Census Bureau includes both international and domestic migration.) That 23.98 per 1,000 population was the largest population increase, natural increase or net migration, in any state from 2011 to 2017.

What about net migration in 2016 and 2017. Well, again in concert with economic activity, and likely augmenting existing economic change as part of a feedback loop, there was negative net migration, that is, a population loss, of 6.21 and 6.84 per 1,000 population in 2016 ad 2017.  That oil bust led to an enormous outflow of population in this timeframe. So the rapid increases were great, except they reversed themselves, which is why too much reliance on net migration, at the state level, does not create a sustained increase in the population, at least it did not for North Dakota because so much of that inflow came for the oil boom, and when that turned reversal was an option.

It obviously requires more investigation and discussion which will be forthcoming. There also need to be some comparisons to other states as well, both in terms of the success of the overall population growth picture and the economic growth picture. Both are important and the dynamic feedback loop between the two is important to understand as a potential constraint on economic policy as well as possible something for policy to look to exploit for added benefit.

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