North Dakota Town Has Nearly 3 Job Openings For Every Worker Looking: "It's A Wage Earners Market"


How is it that Walmart is paying over $17 per hour for cashiers in Williston? Why is the “effective” minimum wage in Dickinson over $14 per hour?

Maybe it’s because North Dakota’s booming economy has ramped up demand for workers, the supply of which simply hasn’t caught up. Case in point, Devils Lake area – which is well outside of the oil patch in the eastern part of the state – where there are about 3 job openings for every one person looking for a job:

One day this past week, Job Service’s website showed 674 job openings in the five-county area served by the Devils Lake regional office. That same website indicated just 243 people registered as looking for work.

“There’s plenty of jobs and not enough people to fill them,” said Randi Anfinson, a consultant with Job Service in Devils Lake. “It’s a wage earners’ market. For companies hiring, the quality of individual you’re getting depends on the wage.”

This isn’t an unusual situation for North Dakota. In October of 2012 I did the math on job openings versus unemployed people and found that the state had over 13,000 more jobs than people looking for work. At the end of last year we learned that North Dakota was the only state in the nation that added more jobs than people.

What’s interesting is that in the Devils Lake area it is Walmart – often derided by critics as offering poor compensation – that is driving wages up:

Leading the way here has been Wal-Mart Stores, which is adding about 85 employees as it moves into its new store.

By offering $10-an-hour jobs, it’s been forcing many other area businesses, including grocery and other retail stores, to match the wages to keep the staff they have, according to Anfinson.

“If you have no job skills, you can find a $10-an-hour job,” he said. “We get calls from construction companies, remodelers. They say ‘Send me someone who is going to show up every day.’ It’s the same with farm jobs.”

But when stories like this come up, the cynics claim that it’s just the oil boom. And that the rising cost of living in the oil patch offsets any gains in income.

They’re wrong. It’s not just the oil patch. Devils Lake isn’t what anyone would consider to be an oil patch community, yet they are seeing a strong labor market and rising wages.

And the increases in cost of living aren’t as bad as someone of the dire headlines and political talking points would suggest. For instance, a study of grocery prices by North Dakota State University released last year found little difference between oil patch prices and the rest of the state.