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ND population hits record, but growth fades as out-migration returned in 2016

FARGO--North Dakota's population boom, an echo of the oil boom, faded significantly over the past year as the state saw more people leave than enter in search of jobs and opportunities.

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FARGO-North Dakota's population boom, an echo of the oil boom, faded significantly over the past year as the state saw more people leave than enter in search of jobs and opportunities.

North Dakota gained 1,117 people in 2016, reaching a record population of 757,952, or a one-year increase of 0.15 percent, according to Census Bureau estimates released Tuesday, Dec. 20.

The modest population gain was in spite of the fact North Dakota experienced a net migration loss estimated at 4,684, reversing a run of significant migration gains as the state's robust energy development lured job seekers from other states.

"Overall, it's growth, but there was some out-migration with that in the stats," said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office.

Because many of those who came to North Dakota in the boom years were young adults, many of whom stayed to start families, the state experienced a rise in what demographers call natural increase, when births exceed deaths.

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North Dakota's natural population growth increase over the past year was estimated to be 5,652, the difference between the 11,824 births less 6,172 deaths.

The last year North Dakota experienced an exodus, a trend that plagued the state in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, was 2007, Iverson said.

"My guess is some of those people who came in very easy also left very easy," he said. If someone was earning $100,000 a year during the boom, but saw wages drop to around $50,000, "It's a lot easier to go home, where family is," Iverson said.

During the boom years, one in six employees resided outside the state, he said. "We knew we were going to lose a lot of those," during the downturn.

Iverson said he was "a little surprised" by the reversal of the state's in-migration trend, but said it reflected the decrease in the number of jobs, most notably a dramatic reduction last year in the Oil Patch.

Figures tracked by Job Service North Dakota showed that oil employment dropped from 63,000 in 2014 to 48,000 in 2015.

Still, in spite of the marked census slowdown, North Dakota's estimated population gain since 2010 leads the nation, he said.

"Even with the slowdown in population growth, North Dakota remains the state with the highest-percentage growth since the last census in 2010 at 12.7 percent," Iverson said. Texas followed with a 10.8 percent increase and Utah grew 10.4 percent during that period.

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North Dakota's last population decrease came from 2001 to 2002, when the estimated count decreased from 639,062 to 638,168.

"We're still way above those numbers today," Iverson said.

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Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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