Employment, wage growth in Oil Patch far outpaces growth statewide

Employment in the heart of North Dakota's Oil Patch has soared by about 50 percent over the past three years. Workers have been streaming to the oil fields and associated job sites, lured by an average annual wage of $89,730, more than double the...

Employment in the heart of North Dakota's Oil Patch has soared by about 50 percent over the past three years.

Workers have been streaming to the oil fields and associated job sites, lured by an average annual wage of $89,730, more than double the state average of $41,778.

For months, North Dakota's unemployment rate has been the lowest in the nation, thanks not only to the energy boom but also from strong crop prices, among other factors.

But has there been a spillover effect, in employment and wages, from the Oil Patch into the rest of North Dakota?

The answer appears to be yes, according to figures compiled by Job Service North Dakota. But the growth in jobs and wages outside the Oil Patch is not nearly as dramatic.


Start with job growth.

In what North Dakota defines as the 17 oil-and-gas-producing counties, average annual employment grew by 7,393 jobs, or 10.4 percent, from 2010 to 2011.

That compares to a 5.8 increase in jobs statewide during that period, an increase of 20,759, according to Job Service figures.

If the 17 Oil Patch counties were subtracted, however, the state's increase in jobs drops to a more modest 4.6 percent.

Still, that's more than four times the longtime average growth in employment of about 1 percent a year that has prevailed since the 1990s, said Michael Ziesch, manager of Job Service North Dakota's labor market information center.

Exceeding the longtime average job creation rate almost five-fold, he added, "Certainly shows the strength of agriculture and energy," and a robust economy beyond the Bakken.

The state's total number of jobs, as an annual average, as of last year was 379,433. Of those, 78,533, or almost 21 percent, were in the Oil Patch counties.

As for wage increases, a similar pattern applies, with stronger growth in the Oil Patch.


Average annual wages in the 17 oil-producing counties jumped by 15.2 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to Job Service.

Statewide wages for the year grew 9.6 percent. If the Oil Patch counties were subtracted from the statewide figure, the growth in wages dips to 8 percent.

The type of jobs in demand in the Oil Patch explains part of the gap, Ziesch said. The job mix is dominated, unsurprisingly, by construction and extraction, which includes oil, as well as transportation and material moving.

"It's not just the premium wages," Ziesch said, "but they've got that huge effect of overtime."

An analysis of labor markets in North Dakota by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis also found a split between the Oil Patch and the rest of the state.

Since 2009, average weekly wages are up around 25 percent in 12 Bakken counties - nine in North Dakota, three in Montana - compared to 4.9 percent in the rest of North Dakota, according to the Fed study, which analyzed a different series of numbers than Job Service.

Job postings in the studied Bakken counties increased almost four-fold since 2009, the Fed study found.

As a percentage of North Dakota employment, employment in the nine Bakken counties almost doubled since August of 2004, from 10.4 percent to 20 percent as of this August.


The economist at the Federal Reserve who did the labor analysis said he is not able to determine if there is a measurable "spillover effect" from the Bakken counties to the rest of North Dakota.

"The answer at this point is we don't know quantitatively the impact of the Bakken on wages and employment in the rest of North Dakota," said economist Rob Grunewald.

Anecdotally, he said, "It's having a strong impact on Bismarck," but he has not been able yet to correlate that to the Bakken boom.

The Fed's analysis of North Dakota labor markets continues, however, and Grunewald will study unemployment, weekly wages and employment growth to see if he can measure how far the Bakken's "reach" extends in labor markets in the rest of the state.

"I think there is a Bakken effect that is clearly affecting the nine counties, but also is spilling over into the rest of North Dakota," he said.

As he is collecting more data, Grunewald said, "I'm starting to see more of a statistical spillover. But whether that effect is weak or strong, "That is exactly the question we are studying."

One rough measure of the attractiveness of North Dakota's job market to the rest of the country: out-of-state resumes on file with Job Service North Dakota account for one of three job seekers.

As of October, the most recent figures available, North Dakota had 22,161 job openings listed online. Cass County posted the largest gain in online listings over the previous year, 1,009. That was followed with Burleigh County, 865, and Williams County, 263.


Readers can reach Forum Communications reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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