Many people ask me about the challenges for the North Dakota economy moving forward. This is much more difficult to do than it may seem; there are no easy answers here. There are many reasons for this. What seems to be an problem now may resolve itself of its own accord in the near future. It could also be the case new problems arise as a result of federal policy or technological innovations. As Yogi Berra said, “Predicting things is hard. Especially about the future.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistic released updated data for North Dakota today, and as promised I am posting an update to the data from last week. Not much changed really. The preliminary unemployment rate for December 2016 is 3.0% which is the same as the revised rate for November. The November value was originally 2.9%. We are not going to get upset by a .1% revision.
I thought I would add another brief look at the data on North Dakota’s labor market before we close up the year with new data releases next week. Once again these data go through November of 2016, and start in the immediate aftermath of the problems in the oil industry.
After the boom comes the bust, or so we are told. One of the more interesting questions for North Dakota is the extent of the pain, if any, felt during the bust, and how it ends up distributed across the state. To help answer this question we need to continue analysis of the circumstances of growth in North Dakota during this century. Call it a Nearby Economic History. A better understanding of the process of economic growth in the state is 1) important in its own right (knowledge for its own sake is seldom bad), and 2) potentially useful information as the state discusses policies going forward.
The recent drops and volatility in commodities markets, particularly oil, are well-known. One of the big ongoing questions for the state of North Dakota is the impact on the state economy of these new developments in oil. We have seen that oil and gas output is not necessarily suffering with the price decreases or volatility. So where are the effects? You might expect to see it in a graph of labor force, like this:
Most recent discussion of oil markets focused on prices and the volatility of price movements. These are surely very important, and the driver of almost everything else happening in energy markets. Looking at North Dakota here is the percentage change in labor force (year-over-year) for North Dakota as a whole and for the four core Bakken oil counties.
Just time for a brief post right now. Obviously the major driver of the situation in western North Dakota is oil, oil prices to be precise. So what exactly is that relationship like? Here is a graph of Williston labor force and oil prices:
Last week I was part of a business roundtable for Congressman Kevin Cramer. There were several topics discussed but I presented some information about the labor force in the North Dakota metropolitan and micropolitan areas. I calculated three-year and one year monthly growth rates and then projected out the labor force based on those rates. This is an inherently linear projection method which is less than desirable but the inherent nonlinearities in the ND data are somewhat difficult to identify.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data on employment and unemployment from the Current Employment Statistics survey. North Dakota was number one in the country with a 4.4% increase in total nonfarm employment from year ago levels. That is 12 consecutive months where the year-over-year percent change was at or above 3%, and something like 55 months in a row that the number was positive. This is a pretty stellar performance.
The growth occurring in North Dakota as a whole, and in most of the sub regions within the states, is quite impressive as media stories no doubt impart. Being a dismal scientist I pointed out many times here and on the Jarrod Thomas Show (1310 KNOX AM, shameless plug I know) that the growth in the oil patch represented a potential constraint on growth in communities like Grand Forks. While many disagreed with me I offer up the following trends that should give people pause.