ND Labor Markets

One of the big stories nationally, and rightly so, focuses on the adjustments in labor markets, or really the lack of adjustments in labor markets. We still see national initial claims for unemployment in the hundreds of thousands, and while job creation is good, we have not got back all the jobs lost. In North Dakota it is a somewhat similar story.

We are all aware of the record levels of initial claims in North Dakota this year but what we see here in the map above is the major economic areas for retail, for hospitality, for energy, and other sectors are the source of the highest level of initial claims.

Behind the scenes with all these claims are the changed economic circumstances due to COVID forcing very difficult decisions at businesses and households. We can attempt to get at some of this with data about labor force (employed + unemployed looking for work).

I calculated this as a ratio of the September labor force to the February labor force. Essentially a current level compared to the last pre-COVID measure. There are only three counties at or above the level of February. The state overall is helped by the fact that one of them is Cass county, the largest county in the state. The state labor force is still down by almost 4300 in September when compared to February.

There are a couple of parts to this that may mask a worse situation. Looking for work may be a long term proposition if jobs are not available. Many businesses currently manage staffing levels very carefully because of the potential for quick changes in consumer demands changing sales levels.

There may also be some individuals that responded to COVID by no longer working and not looking for work. Two earner families with children at home may have been forced into a decision about schooling and or daycare based on family health that dictated one earner leave the workforce. This type of situation is very difficult to get at in the data, but it seems plausible there are some. The question would be how many, because these would all add to the current reduction in the labor force level in the state.

Even in booming economic times parts of North Dakota experienced difficulty getting and retaining workforce. Now with key economic sectors in the state experiencing downturns and COVID reducing labor search migrations it seems unlikely that labor mismatches will be met with out of state workers. How we solve these issues is a big concern for local businesses, local taxing authorities, and the sate as a whole.

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