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The North Dakota Exodus

(Reprint from News: September 30, 2001)

September 21, 2001


North Dakota, with a population of only 640,000 (one-third the size of Portland) is one of the least populated states in the U.S. and is the only state that has consistently lost population during the past several decades.  The net outmigration is partly due to the brutal winters here.  Although the summers in North Dakota are generally pleasant, winters here are pretty nasty with an average high temperature of 20 degrees in Bismarck during January and an average low of 2 below zero.  Kids here learn pretty fast not to stick their tongue on the flagpole in the wintertime.  But according to a local paper I read recently from 1917, winters here really aren't that bad because it's "a humid cold and not a dry cold."  Yeah, right -- as if that makes a difference!  As everyone says, "It's not the cold, it's the humidity."


The other reason people are leaving North Dakota is that, as farming becomes more mechanized, fewer people are needed to grow the crops here.  After graduating from high school, most rural North Dakotans either move to the cities here, like Bismarck or they leave the state altogether.  The large cities in this state are growing slowly ("large" being a relative term with the largest city, Fargo, having just 80,000 people), but the population of rural areas and small towns here are, for the most part, dropping fast.  In fact, many rural towns in North Dakota have disappeared over the past 30 years.


In just about every other part of the U.S., the concept of "growth" is a given:  most cities are getting bigger, most roads are getting more congested, etc.  It's a very strange feeling to know that a lot of people in North Dakota are looking to move OUT, and not many people outside of the state want to move in.  Judging from the large number of older folks here and the small number of younger folks, the declining population trend will probably continue for many more years.  On the positive side, though, housing here is really cheap.



Above left:  Getting Jiffy Lubed in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Above center:  Believe it or not, this is the North Dakota Capitol.  You'd think it was an office building except for that sign in front that says "North Dakota Capitol."  At 19 stories, I believe this is the tallest building in North Dakota.

Above right:  This is where I want to live.



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