By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau
HIGH WAGES: During a visit to Williston, North Dakota, University of Michigan economist Mark Perry snapped this photo advertising entry-level jobs at Walmart starting at over $17 per hour.
DICKINSON, N.D. — As policymakers in Washington, D.C., debate raising the federal minimum wage, entry-level workers in North Dakota enjoy pay levels nearly twice the current federal minimum.
“Effectively, our minimum wage in town is $14 an hour,” claims Shawn Kessel, administrator for the City of Dickinson, a community in North Dakota’s booming oil fields.
Neither North Dakota nor the City of Dickinson have a minimum wage policy.
Kessel isn’t basing his estimate on any official survey, but rather his own observations. He told Watchdog he discusses wages with local business leaders and tracks the wages offered in job listings in his city. He’s convinced the number is accurate, and it is certainly in line with other data and observations in the state.
Wages even for entry-level jobs are so high in North Dakota they sometimes go viral. Watchdog reported previously on a photo by University of Michigan economist Mark Perry of job listings at a Walmart in Williston, which showed cashiers commanding wages of more than $17 per hour.
Plus, North Dakota has led the nation in personal income growth in six of the past seven years.
In March, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report showing North Dakota’s personal incomes have nearly doubled over the past decade, to more than $57,000 per year. That’s a 93 percent increase from 2003 when incomes in the state were $29,569 per capita.
More remarkable is that North Dakota’s booming incomes come at a time when income growth is slowing in the rest of the country. Nationally, personal income growth slowed from 4.2 percent in 2012 to 2.6 percent in 2013, but North Dakota nearly tripled the national rate at 7.6 percent. The state also was double the second-ranked state, Utah, which saw 4 percent growth, according to the BEA.
North Dakota’s per-capita personal yearly income is $57,084 in 2013, up from $54,871 in 2012. The state now ranks third in the nation in per capita personal income, behind only Connecticut’s $60,487 and Washington, D.C., at $74,513.
Still, at least one policymaker in the state supports hiking the minimum wage. U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, is a co-sponsor of legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
“I don’t know anyone who puts in 40 hours of work who makes $15,000 a year can make ends meet in North Dakota,” she said of the policy in April.
But in North Dakota, high wages even for entry-level workers seem to be a product of supply and demand, not government policy. The state has launched a national campaign led by Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley to lure 20,000 new workers to fill open jobs.