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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

Is out-migration continuing?...

Posted 1/22/14 (Wed)

Does anyone know what ever happened to Richard Rathge?

He’s the demographer at North Dakota State University who annually put out a report telling us in the media how many people were leaving North Dakota.

I assume he is still at NDSU since he has an active e-mail account, but has anyone seen any of his out-migration reports in recent years?

You’re probably wondering what kind of tobacco I’m smoking since the governor’s office recently released statistics to show that North Dakota’s population has grown by 22,000 people since the 2010 census, putting the state at 722,000.

Communities in the west are growing so fast, the infrastructure can’t keep up. It’s like the gold rush in the 1890s in the Klondike.

However, I would challenge anyone, especially Mr. Rathge, to dig into statistics involving the continued out-migration of North Dakota residents.

Yes, the population has increased and yes, we can be reasonably sure that numerous young people have shifted from the east to western communities, but nobody can tell me that out-migration has stopped.

My guess is that out-migration is continuing, maybe not at the level it was in 2006, but because there is so much media attention with the growth in Williston, Watford City, Stanley and others, perhaps the out-migration issue has been overshadowed.

If you talk to people “in the trenches” so to speak, I think you’ll find that residents are still leaving like they did before the transformation of the west.

In fact, Williston Mayor Ward Koeser has gone on record to say that as many as 1,500 people he knew have left Williston in the past five years.

Does that mean anything to anybody? I would think that is a pretty serious red flag. That’s like the entire city of Mayville or Bowman disappearing for other places out of state.

Countless longtime residents have left the Fort Berthold Reservation and have moved to other places, not necessarily out of North Dakota, but they’ve moved to places like Bismarck or Fargo and have enrolled their kids in parochial schools.

Do you suppose that should tell our state leadership something? These people are not just a statistic. They are the ones who have been here, some of them since the Great Depression, but they’re leaving because of rapid development, crime and hyper inflation.

We’ve all seen the reports of little old ladies getting kicked out on the curb because the rent has as much as quadrupled and they can’t afford it. It’s happened in Belfield, Dickinson and Williston, at least it’s been reported in those communities.

Where are they going? Does Mr. Rathge have a pulse on this?

I often wonder about people in the service industry. The pizza guy, the school janitor, retail cashiers, teachers; how can they make it?

Eastern North Dakota really hasn’t changed in the past few years. Fargo has grown a bit but overall, it’s the same trend we’ve seen for a lot of years.

For instance, in 1990, Langdon’s population was 2,500. Now it is down to about 1,500. Linton, Wishek, Oakes, Cavalier, Cando and numerous others are still losing population, but it continues to be overshadowed by the population increase in the west.

Several years ago Rathge was a speaker at the North Dakota Newspaper Association convention. The out-migration statistics were nothing new to a hundred journalists listening, but what caught everyone’s attention was the shift in political power.

Because the west was rapidly losing population and the east was losing modest population, that meant the voting power was shifting to the eastern counties like Cass, Grand Forks, Richland, Walsh and Traill counties.

But now that pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction. As a greater amount of people move to western communities and the east loses people in a trickle effect, the individual vote will again hold more clout out west.

That should help neatralize some of those eastern issues like Missouri River diversion that nobody wanted except the city of Fargo.

Still, there should be a genuine concern for those who love North Dakota but continue leaving. I’ll bet that many of them go away before the winter months as snowbirds and never come back because they can live cheaper and happier in warmer climates.