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North Dakota drops in population for first time in 15 years

North Dakota's population fell in 2017, the first time in 15 years. It was among eight states that lost residents this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (Submitted Graphic)

For the first time in 15 years, North Dakota’s population has shrunk.

But the drop is not as sharp as in other states, and the figures should be put in context for interpretation, North Dakota’s Census official said.

The state, which set population records during its oil boom, had a population decrease of 155 people from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2017 according to estimates released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. That means it has about 755,400 people.

Minnesota saw a jump of 51,556 residents from 2016 to 2017.

The decrease is not a surprise, said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office. Depressed oil prices caused a slowdown in the mid-2010s after the state saw flocks of people migrate to North Dakota to tap the boom. After prices lingered around $100 a barrel for most of the first half of the decade, they dropped from $109 a barrel in June 2014 to less than $30 a barrel in January 2016.

The downturn led to a decline in active drilling rigs in North Dakota, as well as jobs leaving the state.

“We took a pause, that’s for sure,” he said of population growth.

The last time North Dakota lost population was in 2002, when it reported a population of 638,168. That was about 900 fewer people than the 2001 estimate of 639,062.

North Dakota, which ranks 47th in total population, was among eight states that saw a population loss from last year, according to a U.S. Census news release. California had the most people with more than 39.5 million residents, according to the 2017 estimates.

Idaho was the fastest growing state. It grew at 2.2 percent, with a total population of 1.7 million people. The U.S. gained 2.3 million residents, growing less than a percent to 325.7 million.

The other states that lost residents were Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Context needed

North Dakota hit an all-time high population last year with 755,548 residents. It previously held the claim to being the fastest growing state in 2015, according to Forum News Service archives.

North Dakota still has the title for second fastest growing state since the 2010 Census with 12.3 percent growth, second only to Texas, he noted.

North Dakota did well in the first half of the decade compared with the rest of the country, Iverson said, adding other states have caught up while North Dakota has seen a slowdown in its oil and agriculture industries.

“You have to look at it in the context that it has happened,” he said.

He noted other oil producing states like Wyoming and Alaska have lost more people compared with North Dakota. Alaska lost 1,727 residents and Wyoming lost 5,595.

“It’s almost no change at all,” Iverson said of North Dakota’s numbers. “It wasn’t a terrible year. It wasn’t a good year either, but it wasn’t a terrible year.”

Illinois saw the greatest loss, shrinking by 33,703 people.

It’s likely North Dakota could see a period of sustained growth, at least compared to previous years, Iverson said. He noted that oil prices have jumped in recent months. Oil was almost $58 per barrel as of Wednesday.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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