You count: Five things you might not know about how North Dakota's population is changing

Updated: Mar 4


Ever feel like you’re just a number?

When you take part in the 2020 Census, you’ll be much more than that.

You’ll help determine how much federal funding our state receives to build highways, fund Medicaid and plan education programs so all of our kids get off to a great start. Your info helps to create maps for emergency services, facilitate scientific research and determine how many seats we have in the House of Representatives.

The census is so much more than a dry assortment of numbers, charts and statistics. It touches almost every aspect of our lives and informs some of the most important decisions made about our communities, schools, neighborhoods, state and country.

Here, courtesy of LSSND Research Director Karen Olson, are five trends to track in North Dakota’s population in 2020.


1. One city is movin’ on up. Current population estimates for Minot are at 47,370, and city officials hope census numbers will confirm it hit 50,000 people in 2020. If it meets this benchmark, Minot would be reclassified as a metropolitan area.

Cities in this higher-population category qualify for more federal grant opportunities. Minot, for instance, could be designated as an “entitlement community,” and receive an annual grant of anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000 through the Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Program.

Metropolitan areas also receive annual data updates on information such as housing vacancy rates, population demographics and employment trends. (Smaller cities also get this info, but not as often.) That data is critical in applying for federal grants and gives these communities better information to make strategic plans.

Reclassification nets other benefits, such as more disaster recovery dollars, better emergency planning and more attention from national business chains.

2. The ‘typical’ household is no longer typical. Forget the long-held adage of the average nuclear family consisting of mom, dad, 2.5 children, a dog and a station wagon.

In 1960, 51.7 percent of North Dakota households were married couples with kids. By 2018, that number dropped to 18.1 percent! Conversely, just 13.6 percent of people were living alone or with non-family during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency. In 2018, that number bumped up to 41.2 percent!

3. We’re growing more diverse. From 2010 to 2018, every North Dakota county, save two,

reported an increase in Hispanic youth, with the largest growth centered in five oil-rich counties, as well as Burleigh, Cass and Grand Forks counties. (Much of this is attributed to domestic migration, Olson says.) We also saw an uptick in numbers of African American, Asian and Native American youth.

To illustrate, just 9 percent of North Dakota’s youth population was non-white or Hispanic in 1990, while 22 percent of youth were identified as minorities in 2018.

"More than ever before, neighborhood, city and state planners are serving diverse communities," Olson says. "Understanding these data are important in their efforts to foster broad-based, inclusive growth, and improve quality of life for everyone."

4. A ‘Boom’ in our aging population. Remember the brain drain? Throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, forecasters feared for our state’s future economy, with fewer children being born and more young people leaving the state after high school or college.

Then the energy boom hit. From 2005 to 2014, we saw a big jump in 25 to 44-year-olds – representing the age group most likely to work in the energy industry. And because that age group is also in prime childbearing years, we experienced an upsurge in young children and 5- to 14-year-olds.


Since 2015, though, population growth in those age groups has slowed as more workers have left to return to their home states or to work elsewhere. Meanwhile, the 65-and-older segment – the Baby Boomers – have continued their gradual increase.

This large demographic group will continue to swell, with the youngest of the “Boomers” all past age 65 in nine years, Olson says. This is sure to drive a much higher demand for senior services and programs like Medicare.

5. We have more tiny towns. We have a higher number of villages or small towns with 200 people or less, probably due to the ongoing rural-to-urban shift in population. In 1960, North Dakota had 127 towns with fewer than 200 people. By 2010, that number had increased to 198.


Tracking this data is important because it helps governments determine where to best spend money on future schools, infrastructure, law enforcement, healthcare and the like.

What will results of the 2020 count bring? More tiny towns? Still smaller households offset by a huge demand for senior-living communities?

The best way to find out is to stand up and be counted.

To take part, reply online, by phone or by snail mail when you receive your census information packet sometime before April 1, 2020. All information is kept confidential. If someone says they are from the Census Bureau and asks for your social security number, political affiliation or for banking or credit card numbers, do not share that information. It’s a scam. Report it to your regional census bureau or to the Federal Trade Commission, (877) 382-4357 or online.



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