FARGO — North Dakota’s population soared by more than 100,000 from 2010 to 2020 — the fastest population growth the state has seen in more than a century.
Census figures released on Monday, April 26, indicate North Dakota has a population of 779,094. That’s 106,503 more than the 2010 census count, or an increase of 15.8%, ranking the state in the top five in terms of percentage population growth.
“I am a little surprised,” said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office. “I had guessed about 10,000 less than that."
North Dakota’s percentage growth of 15.8% was the fourth-largest behind Texas at 15.9%, Idaho at 17.3% and Utah at 18.4%. Among bordering states, Minnesota grew by 7.6%, Montana by 9.6% and South Dakota by 8.9%.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said the population surge reflects what the state has to offer workers, families and businesses.
“The record high 2020 Census count is great news for North Dakota and reaffirms what those of us who live here already know: that our state is a land of abundant opportunity and one of the best places in the nation to live, work and raise a family,” Burgum said.
The only population growth parallel came early in North Dakota's history.
“The last time we grew that much was between 1900 and 1910, when the state grew by 257,910 residents, so it is substantial,” Iverson said. That period coincided with a second wave of homesteading.
An earlier burst of population, the Great Dakota Boom, occurred from 1878 to 1886, when the eastern two-thirds of North Dakota was settled as more than 100,000 immigrants poured into Dakota Territory.
By 1918, almost all of North Dakota was settled.
The population growth reflected in the 2020 census count will mean an increase in federal funding. State officials have estimated that every additional person adds $19,100 in federal funding from programs including Medicare, Medicaid, federal highway funds and education support, Iverson said.
The official census count suggests that estimated population figures for the last few years were too low, he said.
The Census Bureau estimated North Dakota’s population in 2019 as 763,724 and 765,309 for 2020.
The farther an estimate is from an official census count, the more unreliable it becomes because population dynamics change over time, Iverson said.
The Census Bureau will now refine and review its count and in about two years will issue a report estimating what it missed.
Minnesota, which also gained population, has a 2020 census count of 5,706,494 — enough to keep all eight congressional seats. Before the count was released, some speculated that Minnesota could lose a seat to faster-growing states.
North Dakota’s population growth spurt has coincided with the boom in the Oil Patch in the 2010s. Most of the population gains over the past decade, directly or indirectly, stem from economic activity associated with growth in the petroleum industry, Iverson said.
The state's other major industry, agriculture, does not add appreciably to population growth, he said.
"Agriculture needs fewer and fewer people as time goes on," Iverson said. "Oil has been the big player."
The state’s population saw a peak in 1930 at 680,845. By 2000, North Dakota’s population had dwindled to 641,298, largely due to an outmigration of young people.
Then, the population began to rebound, reaching 674,526 in the 2010 census.
New census population figures for cities and counties will be released later.