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Study shows North Dakota as easy place to move up

JAMESTOWN - When it comes to children growing up and turning their lives around financially, North Dakota is one of the best places to start, according to a recent study.

A July 22 New York Times article highlighted a new income mobility study that includes the chances of children raised by parents in the bottom fifth of incomes rising to the top fifth with their own incomes as adults. According to the study, North Dakota held six of the country's top 10 areas with the highest chances of children rising up into richer income brackets.

Children in the Jamestown area have a 20 percent chance of rising from the bottom fifth to top fifth, according to the study, which evaluated cities and areas surrounding them.

The state's highest-performing area was the Williston area at 33.1 percent, second in the country to the Gettysburg, S.D., area at 34.8 percent.

Other areas of North Dakota with high chances of children moving up included Dickinson with 31.7 percent and Carrington with 30.2 percent. Fargo had 13.4 percent, Grand Forks had 13.9 percent and Bismarck had 20.3 percent.

Experts throughout the state said the numbers aren't surprising, for a variety of reasons.

"It's no fluke," said David Flynn, chair of the department of economics at the University of North Dakota. "There has been growth and development opportunities in North Dakota for a very long time."

The study, found at, mainly measured the incomes of children born in 1980 or 1981. The parents' incomes were measured between 1996 and 2000, and then the children's adult incomes were measured in 2010 and 2011, when they were about 30.

"If we look at the income of a 30-year-old North Dakota resident, of course we'd see a huge jump from what his parents earned in the 1990s," because of the state's economic growth, said Siew Lim, professor in the department of agribusiness and applied economics at North Dakota State University.

And in North Dakota, residents don't necessarily have that far to jump from the bottom fifth to top fifth anyway, said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office.

"Our salaries are much closer," Iverson said. "It's not like in some places where you have Skid Row on one end and Manhattan on the other."

Iverson also pointed out that with the oil boom, employers may tend to hire who they know, versus hiring those who come looking for jobs from out of state, which could have specifically helped the incomes of North Dakota natives.

Another contributing factor to the study's results could be North Dakota's education, particularly the high school completion rates, Lim said. Only 2.1 percent of high school students dropped out in 2011, according to North Dakota KIDS COUNT data.

Lim also said family structure probably plays a role in the study's results.

"Other studies have shown kids in two-parent families usually fare better," Lim said.

Only 9.8 percent of children lived in single-parent families in 1980, when many of the study's subjects were born, according to North Dakota KIDS COUNT.

Lim added that the income mobility study states that it's measuring correlation, not causation.

"This (study) is another piece of data, piece of information, that really shines a positive light on North Dakota," Flynn said.

He added that the study shows most other areas of the country also improving, just maybe not at the same rate as North Dakota.

"Advancement occurs," he said, "and in North Dakota, especially advancement from the lowest levels, seems to occur fairly quickly."