We recently learned from the 2020 Census that much of North Dakota’s 106,000-plus population gain since 2010 came from an influx of members of minority communities.
That was especially true here in Cass County, where the proportion of Black residents increased to 8.8% from 2.7% a decade earlier. The Latinos and Asian and multiracial populations also grew.
In fact, now about 17% of North Dakota residents are members of racial minorities, making our population mosaic the most diverse it’s ever been. We now look more like the rest of America.
But here’s why that’s important and why it matters in our everyday lives.
Significantly, much of that increased diversity has happened in the Oil Patch, where the high demand for labor acted as a beacon that drew workers from all over.
Oil revenues have risen faster than North Dakota’s population — enabling, among other things, the state to pay for its large share of the $3.2 billion diversion, now under construction. That gush of oil money wouldn't be possible at current levels without the arrival of new workers, some of them members of minority communities.
That’s critical to understand as North Dakota, like the rest of the nation, continues to struggle with a chronic shortage of workers. Actually, North Dakota’s labor shortage is probably worse than many areas of the country. Our unemployment rate is 3.6%, more than a third lower than the 5.7% national jobless rate.
Consider that in the Fargo area alone, more than 5,000 jobs go unfilled. Just think of how much better our economy would be performing if we didn’t have so many missing workers.
The worker shortage has been exacerbated by the disruptive pandemic, but long preceded it.
The scarcity of labor is evident in restaurants where patrons face longer waits or shortened hours — or when restaurants have been forced to close because they lack workers.
Early in North Dakota’s history, starting during the territorial era, North Dakota was aggressively wooing settlers to come here to farm, set up shop or work in the trades. The state and railroad companies advertised in Europe for immigrants to come to the verdant Dakota prairie.
Too often we forget that, except for the Native Americans, all of us are descendants of immigrants.
Historically, one of America’s great strengths has been its openness to legal immigrants. Still, immigrants haven't always been welcomed warmly. Even families with Scandinavian ancestors tell stories of their ancestors being met with cold shoulders.
The best of America — and the best of North Dakota — is on display when we welcome refugees. North Dakota just learned that 49 Afghan refugees will resettle in the state. They were interpreters for the U.S. military or otherwise served the war effort.
Now they will become residents of our community. Refugees need help getting established, but in time most become taxpayers. They will fill jobs and take their places in an increasingly diverse society.
Let’s remember that legal immigrants, including refugees, have always been an integral part of our communities.