Over the last few years North Dakota has seen its population grow, much of it due to the oil boom in the western part of the state. The growth has been exciting for a state used to watching its small population get smaller.
Our growing population has benefits, but it hasn’t erased racial disparities that exist in the state. For a long time there have been disparities between indigenous peoples and the white residents. Native Americans have been surpassed in population over the past decade by the combined numbers of other groups, mostly blacks and Hispanics. While the majority of newcomers to North Dakota are white, 54 percent, the growth period provided increasing diversity that reflects conditions in the rest of the U.S.
A Forum News Service story on Feb. 4 provided insight into North Dakota’s changing demographics.
Unfortunately, poverty rates for black, Hispanic and Native American residents remain high in the state, according to American Community Survey data provided by the U.S. Census. Both black and indigenous groups in North Dakota experience poverty at a scale about four times as great as that for white North Dakotans. Educational attainment rates for nonwhite populations also are suffering, especially in post-secondary education.
In North Dakota, poverty rates are worse for some nonwhites when compared to the country as a whole. On the Northern Plains, whites experience poverty at a rate of 8.7 percent. Asians in North Dakota see a poverty rate of 21.6 percent, while Hispanics actually do better than the national average with 20.3 percent. Blacks have a 33.9 percent poverty rate, and American Indians see 37.5 percent.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the situation. Reservations have struggled with economic development, often lacking private investment from businesses and industries to drive their economies. Federal appropriations for education and health care services aren’t sufficient, Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, told the Forum News Service.
"I look at the systems operated in tribal lands -- we have appropriations to educate, to do health care services, and it's never been enough," Davis said, adding, "and the funding, the resources to run those operations effectively, quite honestly probably never will be."
Another factor is that many members of the minority groups coming to the state are young, with the median age for nonwhite residents recently counted at about 18 years. These young residents are just getting started and haven’t finished their education and haven’t moved into higher-paying jobs yet.
It’s clear North Dakota has work to do. Gov. Doug Burgum’s administration has been working on several fronts with tribal leaders to come up with solutions. We also need to be welcoming to all new residents. In some cases there will be cultural differences. We should be willing to explore our differences and share our experiences.
We shouldn’t fear diversity. It gives us a better understanding of the rest of the nation and the world. At the same time we need to work to eliminate the racial disparities that exist in society. We have the ability to make life better for everyone and that should be our goal.