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Forum editorial: Population loss in N.D. confirmed

The numbers are in and they are not pretty. Despite self-serving attempts to discredit the work of scientists who analyzed population statistics from the 2000 U.S. Census, the latest revisions confirm that North Dakota lost population between 199...

The numbers are in and they are not pretty.

Despite self-serving attempts to discredit the work of scientists who analyzed population statistics from the 2000 U.S. Census, the latest revisions confirm that North Dakota lost population between 1990 and 2000. Like it or not, the revisions are final. Like it or not, the Census Bureau has concluded that 5,624 people left the state in the 1990s.

Anyone surprised? That is, anyone other than those who think undermining the process will alter the results? Officials and media of at least one major North Dakota city have been joined by Gov. John Hoeven in making mini-careers of pooh-poohing the work of the North Dakota State Data Center. But the latest data revisions should silence -- or at least discredit -- the spin doctors.

The decline is clear and not unexpected. Depopulation and population shifts occurred in the '90s; census estimates show the trend has continued into the early years of the 21st century.

There was growth, but in very few places. The lion's share was concentrated in a handful of the state's larger cities because that is where the action is: good jobs, educational opportunities, recreation, medical services, business potential.

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But even the growth of the urban centers has not been enough to offset the net loss across the vast rural expanses and in small cities of North Dakota. Only a few counties gained people or were stable in the last decade. The rest declined, some so sharply they no longer are viable places.

Why? Because nothing significant has been accomplished to buck the trends. And if the work of the 2003 Legislature is any indication, nothing will change this year.

The session nearing adjournment in Bismarck has been workmanlike and efficient -- as all sessions are. But it has not been bold. Visionary leadership requires more than putting inadequate funds into the same old programs.

At a time when nearly every trend reveals a state in crisis, lawmakers conducted business as usual. Indeed, several enlightened initiatives were either gutted or scuttled. Lawmakers wallowed in their traditional hunker-down mode, despite pleas and warnings from the segment of the population North Dakota needs to attract and hold: educated young people.

The North Dakota census numbers are unsettling because they are so rare in the nation. While other states were growing and thriving through the '90s, North Dakota was stagnating. The legislatures of the '90s did nothing effective to address the problem. It appears the legislatures of the new decade are reruns.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board

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