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The New Economy

Unemployment extension? Pooh. North Dakota hits jobs record.

While Senate pushes unemployment extension, federal data shows more North Dakotans hold jobs than ever before. Alaska is also near its record.

By / July 20, 2010

US Forest Service mule packer Mark Pengelly leads a string of mules in North Dakota's badlands near Medora. On the same day that the Senate pushed to pass an unemployment extension, the Labor Department released data showing that North Dakota is employing more workers than ever before. Nearly half the growth comes from a rise in government jobs.

James MacPherson/AP/File

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North Dakota and Alaska have about as much in common as a hay baler and a snowball. But they do share this:

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They're the only states in America to have created jobs since the onslaught of the Great Recession.

While the Senate pushed toward passing an unemployment benefits extension Tuesday, the Labor Department released data showing that North Dakota saw employment rise from 362,100 in December 2007 to 371,300 last month. That June total is a record. Never before have so many North Dakotans held down a job.

Alaska's employment has grown almost as impressively: up 5,100 to 324,400 in June and near its all-time record set earlier this year.

Texas can't claim that. Neither can Massachusetts or Oregon. Only Washington, D.C., has seen similar job growth and now has more people working than ever before. Everyone might expect Washington would grow under an activist Democratic president and Congress. Where did North Dakota's and Alaska's growth come from?

Surprisingly, it also was fueled by growth in government.

Of the 9,200 new jobs North Dakota added in the past 2-1/2 years, nearly half (4,200) were in government. Only education and health services came close to matching that growth (3,000).

Alaska's growth was even more government-dependent. Had its public sector not grown since December 2007, the state would have lost 500 jobs.

Critics might be quick to point the finger at North Dakota's Democratic delegation to Washington for bringing pork barrel jobs to their state or to former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin for bulking up state government during her tenure. It's true that federal and state jobs have increased in both states since 2007.

But in each case, the biggest contributor to the job growth has been local government.

It's true that in the past Alaska and North Dakota have had a larger share of their labor force working. It's also true that for sustainable economic growth, the private sector will have to step up and create some jobs in the months ahead.

Until then, the United States may have to depend on the continued employment of town clerks, police, firemen, and others who do the government work that most directly touches the lives of its citizens.

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