David Flynn: North Dakota Continues Stellar Labor Market Growth


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data on employment and unemployment from the Current Employment Statistics survey. North Dakota was number one in the country with a 4.4% increase in total nonfarm employment from year ago levels. That is 12 consecutive months where the year-over-year percent change was at or above 3%, and something like 55 months in a row that the number was positive. This is a pretty stellar performance (Click to enlarge).

North Dakota Nonfarm Employment, percent change from year ago

For the most part the same story plays out in the three metropolitan areas in the state. Though there are some important differences (Click to enlarge).

North Dakota Metropolitan Statistical Area Nonfarm Employment, Percent Change from year ago

For the most part the three graphs move together, though not perfectly. What is interesting is the way Fargo soared ahead in recent months, to 4.7% year-over-year increase for a preliminary number in July. The decline in the Grand Forks numbers, the only one of the three areas to move into negative territory, is noteworthy too. What is happening at the state level is not necessarily playing out identically in all three metro areas. Not that I expected that to be the case, it is just nice to see data confirm it.

The Local Area Unemployment Statistics program (also from the BLS) tells a similar story at the state level. The labor force grew 2.6%, year-over-year, while employment grew 2.7%. What does this mean? The percentage increase in the employed was greater than the percentage increase in the labor force, indicating further tightening in the labor market. Over the last year there were 10,424 more people in the labor force (recall the labor force is those employed plus those seeking work) and there were 10,641 more employed. So those seeking work but without jobs were a negative 217 in the last twelve months. North Dakota employers are hiring more people than increases in the labor force.

There is obviously a stock v. flow issue here to the calculations, but it still adds up to a very tight labor market (2.8% unemployment according to the LAUS numbers for July 2014). The anecdotes I hear on the radio, and the people I know that feel compelled to talk to me about these issues, seem to match with the story told by the data.