North Dakota saw a spike in growth over the last decade, according to the first results from the decennial 2020 Census released Monday, April 26.

The state experienced the fourth largest percentage of growth (15.8 percent) in the country, gaining over 100,000 people, and took Alaska’s place as the 47th most populated state.

A new Census is released every decade, and in the years in between, the Census Bureau collects data from the IRS and estimates what a state’s population will be by the next release based on births, deaths and net migration, said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota State Data Center.

The population estimate for North Dakota was 765,309, Iverson said. The state’s official population released Monday was 779,094. Most decennial Censuses are off by about a thousand. A near 14,000-person discrepancy is significant.

“Sometimes it’s really good to be wrong, and I will tell you, I was wrong on this one,” Iverson said.

Iverson has several theories as to why the population estimate was so different from the reality. While he is waiting for the release of state-specific data in September to support his theories, he thinks the estimate was lower due to a “hidden migration” and an inability to differentiate resident workers from non-resident workers.

Young people, aged 20-29 years, seem to be the largest age group migrating into the state, Iverson said. The Census Bureau uses addresses on tax returns to determine net migration in between decades.

Iverson suspects young people who moved to North Dakota may have never filed a tax return in another state or may still be filing their returns using their parents’ address from a different state.

“That will hide the migration,” Iverson said. “They will never capture that in the numbers.”

His second theory is based upon resident workers and “super commuters,” those who work in North Dakota for several weeks at a time, but commute from a nearby state like Wyoming or Montana.

With the dramatic drop in oil prices just as the decennial Census began counting, it was estimated the state would lose workers, creating an out migration. Iverson believes the workers the state lost were super commuters, who are counted in their state of residence, not their state of work.

“I think we were able to retain more of the resident (worker) population than we thought we did,” Iverson said.

North Dakota’s large percentage of population growth was also unusual. The last time the state witnessed a larger spike in population was from 1900-1910, Iverson said, where population growth teetered the scale at 80.8 percent. It was the era of the bonanza farm, and homesteaders were rushing to the state.

Iverson believes the jump in population over the last decade was the result of a new state economy. The historically agriculturally-based economy was joined by the oil industry and the boom of 2002. In addition to an influx of jobs, the extra revenue led to statewide tax cuts.

About 50 percent of North Dakota’s migration comes from Minnesota, Iverson said. Minnesota is a high tax state, making its western neighbor look more appealing.

“Suddenly, you can take advantage of that by moving across the river to North Dakota,” Iverson said. “North Dakota looks really tempting at that point in time.”

Minnesota experienced growth on par with the rest of the country, with a 7.6 percent population increase compared to the national average, 7.4 percent. Mapped out, the state’s growth looks linear compared to North Dakota’s growth, which is full of spikes and dips and an exponential increase between 2000-2020.

The midwest as a whole experienced the least percentage of growth out of all four regions of the country, while the south experienced the most growth at 10.2 percent. The country’s percentage of growth has slowed from previous decades. The last time the percentage of growth was at 7 percent was in 1940.

The data released Monday reflected a shift in seven congressional seats. It was the second lowest shift in decennial Census history, only above the zero seat shift of 1920. Recent decades all shifted by at least 12 seats. North Dakota and Minnesota had no change in their congressional seats, remaining at one and eight seats, respectively.

Complete state data will be released by Sept. 30, 2021, at which point states will redistrict their congressional and legislative boundaries, said Valerie Colapret, Census Bureau Denver Region media specialist.

The Census Bureau also conducted a quality analysis to alleviate concerns over the validity of the data due to COVID-19. Census Bureau Acting Director Ron Jarmin said the accuracy of the 2020 Census is comparable to previous years.

“We had numerous quality checks built into collecting the data, and we have conducted one of the most comprehensive reviews in recent census history during data processing,” Jarmin said in a release. “We are confident that today’s 2020 Census results meet our high data quality standards.”

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