From The Left: Women Are Being Left Behind In North Dakota’s Prosperity


It is pretty well accepted that things are pretty good in North Dakota right now. North Dakota has led the nation in personal income growth for several consecutive quarters.  According to reports, from 2008 to 2012, North Dakotans’ per-capita income jumped 31 percent to $57,367, highest of any state in the union. This is a good time for many North Dakotans’; however, a significant part of the population is being left behind in this economic boom.


Last year, Census figures show the median earnings of North Dakota men who worked full time year-round jobs climbed $3,006. However, the median earnings for North Dakota women who worked full time jobs only increased $111.

So despite the great times in North Dakota, the pay gap based on gender has continued to grow.

Now some will say the men who are earning more are working more dangerous jobs, and to be fair, there is some truth to that. The average salary in the oil and natural gas industry was more than $111,000 last year, and those jobs do tend to be more dangerous than many jobs that are traditionally held by women.

However, jobs in the oil and natural gas industry are not the only in demand and important jobs in North Dakota. Many jobs that are traditionally filled primarily by women or filled equally by either men or women are also in great demand, and salaries are not accelerating at a rate to keep up with the increased cost of living.

The simple fact is the cost  associated with living in North Dakota, especially in Western North Dakota, are not reduced because of one’s gender. In my hometown of Minot, the cost of living is around 10% higher than the national average.  It is significantly higher the further west you get.

The salary gap and the high cost of living make North Dakota a very unattractive location for women even if they want to move here. The real time cost of this is that we have large numbers of men who work in North Dakota but have no intention of ever putting down roots here. You can find proof of this every payday with the long lines at Western Union and the plane loads full of men leaving town at the end of a work cycle.

Let’s look at the following high demand jobs that are often female dominated.  All information is from

Job                                                                                    Location                             Median Salary

Elementary Teacher                                                       Dickinson                                  $37,921

Staff Nurse- RN                                                                 Minot                                          $45,419

Executive Assistant                                                        Bismarck                                    $51,010

Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant          Minot                                          $38,142

Accountant 1                                                                     Bismarck                                   $42,620


In all of the areas, North Dakota is below the national average in salary.

It is also important to note that of all the jobs, the only position that is primarily a private sector, Executive Assistant, is the highest paying.

The reality is many female dominated jobs are either public jobs (like teacher) or jobs that are highly influenced by public policy and state expenditures (like nurse and occupational therapist).  Because of the comparatively low wages paid to these female dominated jobs, there are many unfilled jobs that are not likely to be filled unless the cost of living goes down significantly or the wages paid to these jobs are increased significantly.

We have a lot of talk in the state of the need for new infrastructure like sewers, roads, bridges, and buildings; however our state also needs a sustainable “surge” in spending in salaries for those who are supported with public appropriations. The sad thing is that few people in North Dakota are talking about the need to spend more money on these people.

Without doing this, North Dakota risks becoming a temporary residence for well paid oil and gas employees and not a long term home for new citizens.