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Articles by David

North Dakota Unemployment Rate, April 2019

3 days ago

North Dakota’s unemployment rate is too low, or so I maintain. The extremely low level is an issue for firms thinking about locating into North Dakota. They would need to bid up wages to lure workers. The April data by county for North Dakota seems to suggest that unemployment rates remain low.

For the most part the rates are low across the state, especially in the major metropolitan regions. Rolette county is a bit higher than other parts of the state. The unemployment rate in the state is only 2.3% in April.

Barring a major transformation in the state economy it would seem to be a matter of policy concern to start asking if we are at full capacity for the economy. Without more labor or productivity gains it is difficult to see how output levels increase appreciably in the

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Why a trade war with Mexico is a bigger deal

10 days ago

So I received several questions about the prospects of trade war with Mexico and why it seemed there was a bigger deal made about it compared to a trade war with China. The answer is pretty obvious when you look at the data.

The total flow of goods (imports and exports) between the US and China in 2018 (according to the Census Bureau) was almost $660 billion. In 2018 the same amount for Mexico was just under $612 billion. Now $48 billion is a large sum of money, but I wage it is a surprise to many that the total trade flow between the two countries is so close. Here is another surprise: Mexico is more important to US businesses. Why do I say that? Look at the dollar amount that the US exports to the two countries.

In 2018 the US exported $120.3 billion of goods to China. In

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Mortgage & Rent in ND Counties

17 days ago

Frequently the discussion on the Jarrod Thomas Show turns to factors like income and costs which can be very tricky to measure. Why tricky? It is not the case that everyone buys the same basket of goods, has the same number of children, same family situation, and so on. We use measures like median and average because they are the best we have, but that does not make them great. Still, you do the job with what you have.

To begin here is a look at the median home value in ND counties.

The higher median values are mostly in the Bakken region and in Bismarck. The lone outliers, really, in the eastern part of the state come in Cass and Grand Forks counties. So in terms of the discussion about the cost of living in Grand Forks, the value/cost of housing would seem to fall into

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Metro Area Income in North Dakota

24 days ago

A recent topic of conversation on the radio has been a comparison of different metropolitan areas in the state of North Dakota. There are many metric used and combined to create these types of rankings and the value of any of them depends on the interests of the readers and the interests of the people in the communities. Sometimes they measure things that are not relevant to people. I prefer to deal with simpler discussions of more definitive measures like income or wages. We can always branch out into broader discussions if needed, but starting focused is better. In keeping with this I offer up the following graph. 

Median Income

I look at median income by occupational categories as well as the overall median across all occupations for the metropolitan areas of Fargo,

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Natural Increase in North Dakota

May 9, 2019

I am a big believer that population drives much of the economy in North Dakota. While it may not drive everything the population represents a significant constraint on the potential growth of the state. The migration information has, for the most part, been positive these last several years. There should be similar interest in the rate of natural increase.

The rate of natural increase is birth rate less death rate. At the county level it is not always positive which should not be too surprising given the age structure in North Dakota.

The Bakken region and surrounding areas are among the highest level of natural increase. The Red River Valley region also has a positive rate of natural increase as does the Bismarck area. After that it is a bit more spread out without a

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Comparing MLB year-to date

May 2, 2019

So JT and I are big baseball fans and baseball is a frequent topic on the radio. I decided to take a quick look at the results of the season so far, with a specific look at comparisons with this time last season. Let’s start with what is in all likelihood the most notable difference between last season and this season: the Boston Red Sox. On May 1, 2018 the Red Sox were 21-8 with a +62 run differential. On May 1, 2019 the Red Sox are 14-17 with a -23 run differential. While runs scored are down for them so far this year compared to last (-24), the bigger issue is in runs allowed, where they allowed 61 more than this time last year. So last year’s World Series Champ, and pretty much the wire-to-wire best team in baseball is not scoring as much and is allowing way more runs than last

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Migration & North Dakota in 2018

May 2, 2019

Immigration, legal and illegal, is clearly a hot story in the news these days. North Dakota is on an international border but it seems that even here the circumstances on the US-Mexico border are of more concern than any impending inflow of Canadians. More on that in another post. It is time to consider some numbers.

There are multiple definitions of migration to consider in this post. The unit of analysis will be counties in the state of North Dakota. The measures are all net migration, that is the balance of inflow less outflow. So that is two flows to consider, but we will add another wrinkle. The migration can be domestic in nature, that is from other areas within the US, or it can be international.

Why this breakout? Why not? Just kidding, the real reason is the

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North Dakota Population Estimates for 2018

April 25, 2019

The Census Bureau released their latest population estimates by county for the US which includes mid-year estimates for 2018. The state has 760,077 people, which seems to be an all time high. As with all things the distribution matters too. First off, here is the total population change by county:

Not a real surprise if you ask me. Cass County is the big change county at more than 3,000 added. The Bakken region is the next up in that regard, with only a few counties losing significant numbers. So let’s scale this change by the total county population. The percentage numbers tend to tell a different story.

This map tells a slightly different story. The largest percentage gains are clearly in the Bakken area while the North central part of the state seems to be the one losing

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Additions to the Legacy Fund

April 25, 2019

Article X, Section 26 of the North Dakota Constitution covers the Legacy Fund and states “Thirty percent of total revenue derived from taxes on oil and gas production or extraction must be transferred by the state treasurer to a special fund in the state treasury known as the legacy fund.” Taxes on oil and gas production and extraction therefore represent the bulk of the additions to the Legacy Fund. The legislation further states that other sources of revenue can be put into the Legacy Fund, but at this time I am not sure if that ever happened. The additions into the Legacy Fund then are an interesting topic in their own right.

The additions display some variation over time as you can see above. The data start after the oil bust started so it is not surprising to see the early

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Legacy Fund Investment Income

April 24, 2019

So suddenly there are all kinds of public concerns regarding the Legacy Fund. Anybody asking me about it since its inception knows I hate these types of vehicles. They sound good in theory and tend to fail to reach anything close to the theoretical benefits in practice. I voted against it, and I would again. So I am going to break down some of the data about the fund over a series of posts this week.

What is the biggest issue at this point? While the legacy fund represents a significant accumulation of dollar there is absolutely no plan in place, nor has there ever been, for the disposition of those dollars. Some key questions to consider:

Is there a maximum amount for the fund?Are there uses for the funds that are preferred or completely ruled out?Should the state actually

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Its People. Err. Not really

April 23, 2019


Economist and economic historian with an interest in population analysis and demographic methods. Especially interested in natural disasters and disruptions to economic activity and changes in population dynamics, as well as fiscal and monetary policy with forecasting implications. Husband, father, Cubs fan.
View all posts by David

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Grouping Counties in ND (Technical)

April 4, 2019

Two of my colleagues (Dan Owens and Dara Morehouse (I believe in full attribution)) and I are working on population projections for the state. One of the side questions we asked ourselves (always a danger) was when looking at subregions within the state, how would we divide out the state. There are likely candidates such as dividing the state into thirds or quarters. Highway 2 and I-94 make interesting dividers as well. There are many interesting ways to do this and constraints you would want to provide. We also decided to take a little more empirical approach as well. We ran a simple k-means cluster analysis to see what we get with just a few variables.

This is all preliminary and we are adding some more data to see what we get. We are also exploring the best algorithm to use

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Real and Nominal Minimum Wage

March 27, 2019

Back to blogging after a trip to Washington DC that was great but travel back was delayed by weather. Then I had a conference paper draft to complete. So now I can blog some more.

There is a regular caller to the radio station that talks a great deal about the inequities in compensation over the years. Essentially the point he makes is that many more are falling behind in compensation than we realize and that executives and the like are the only ones gaining. That is a rough summary, but it is pretty close.

The caller frequently mentions the minimum wage as an example of the erosion of purchasing power. Let us see how this happened over the years.

The minimum wage has been converted into 2015 dollars in this case. So there is a clear decline the the value of the minimum

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Grand Forks Sales Tax Collections

March 7, 2019

I thought I would update the sales tax forecast today. Teaching forecasting means a great deal of my time is spent looking at these types of models. There is an enormous amount of volatility in the Grand Forks sales tax collection data. I have started work on some related models to try and smooth out some of the volatility and maybe make the statistical properties of the series a bit more tractable. It really cannot help any type of planning exercise to see such enormous volatility in the year-over-year percentage change in collections.

The recent changes to the tax rate notwithstanding it is pretty clear that a few of the recent months were the reason that tax collections managed a small gain at the end of the fiscal cycle. The confidence bands are quite wide right now and

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Oil & Fertility in North Dakota

March 1, 2019

So I am following up my own post. A paper I am soon to present looks at fertility rates in North Dakota and how they were impacted by oil activity. My earlier post, Oil boom but no baby boom in ND, showed a lack of change in the age specific fertility rates for North Dakota over time related to the oil boom. That does not tell the whole story though. There are changes though that are important to highlight. Part of my research is an attempt to break out effects from price and quantity changes on the fertility rate in certain areas.

What is interesting is that there are clearly some correlations for a county like Williams County (home to Williston and in the heart of the Bakken boom for those that do not know) and the price of oil. Some correlation with output in oil exists too,

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More negotiation dimensions

February 24, 2019

If you believe the opinions of most experts over the President success with North Korea negotiations was always going to be difficult to define, let alone achieve. At this point the President setting a different tack in terms of patience is a good thing actually.

The biggest problem is the North already achieved great gains with face-to-face negotiations with the President. This gives the North’s leadership a legitimacy it previously lacked. If the US President meets with you, you are not outcast as a pariah state. So the question becomes what more does the North want to achieve? And what does the US want to achieve?
I think we should accept the North will not give up their weapons at this point. They really have been given no reason to, and we are not likely to get much help from

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Oil Boom but no baby boom in ND?

February 20, 2019

My current research focuses on fertility behavior in response to a variety of economic conditions. This includes partner and own employment type as well as in response to the changes in economic cycle. One of the latter pieces is an examination of the response to the oil boom and then bust in North Dakota. The graph below shows the last ten years or so of fertility rates by age category. It is a fertility rate because it is births divided by women in the specific child-bearing age category as opposed to a crude birth rate.

Clearly these are not completely identical but the consistency is pretty remarkable given the dramatic change in economic circumstances given the nature of the oil boom. This is at the state level so there are a few things that may need to be considered.

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Tax Policy and User Experience

February 14, 2019

Let me start with the following: everything I understand about User Experience I learned from my wife, and anywhere I fall short here likely is due to me not listening enough or understanding fully the point she was making. That is now out of the way.

Economic policy makers give inadequate attention to user experience when formulating their policy. Sometimes this manifests itself in the “unanticipated effects” of policy, or maybe just policy outcomes falling short of expectations. There are other factors that come into play surely. Confirmation bias and deterministic thinking would seem to be two other likely candidates.

My focus right now is on the latest tax change and the user experience aspects that the White House and Congress overlooked. There are numerous stories

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Births to Married and Unmarried Women in ND

February 13, 2019

So the population projection is going and as we work along with it you get to look at some data you did not look at in a while. Lots of recent discussion for us focuses on fertility and fertility modeling. Specifically we are trying to determine various determining factors related to births for North Dakota. This is important given the recent booms in certain sectors and in certain regions of the state.

So looking at the data there was one map I decided to generate to see what it looked like.

So you can see the map displays county level birth ratio, specifically of births to unmarried women to births for married women. A little side note the ratio needs to be in this fashion as there are some counties with zero births to unmarried women. Those obviously cannot be in the

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Predicting the State of the Union Impacts

February 5, 2019

I am teaching forecasting this semester and trying to show the students that forecasting is also a thought process and a state mind. So I thought some predictions about sectors impacted by the State of the Union speech would be a good exercise. I pick three sectors likely to be impacted: agriculture, energy, and construction. Why these three?

I think the President will discuss progress made on international trade negotiations with China. This will include significant exports for agricultural production in the US. This will be a large gain for agricultural producers.

I think there will be a continued discussion of energy independence and likely a mention of the Permian Basin in Texas, though there will be gains for ND shale producers as a result. This is likely to take the

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Employment Gains in ND

February 5, 2019

So I am quoted in this story from the Grand Forks Herald about tax policy changes and employment changes in the state of North Dakota(Link). I thought I would extend my thoughts here. Of all the policies to attempt to heap credit upon for employment gains in the state the tax changes seem to me the least likely. What is more likely?

There were significant changes in regulations surrounding drilling and environmental guidance related to the oil industry. This was a significant source of the employment gains according to the data so if you are going to credit any administration policy I would start with this one.

Add to this the diplomatic and other policies that impacted oil markets this year. This also gave significant support to the industry in North Dakota. These would be

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Polar Vortex and Real Effects

February 2, 2019

So the polar vortex is gone (for now). And to answer the question for anyone not going through it, yes it really was that cold. It was brutal on even short jaunts to the mailbox. However I did go out to the store at one point and there I made some interesting observations.

There are likely to be some real economic effects on the local economy from the extreme cold. Some are likely transitory though some may be less likely to be made up.
Lots of businesses closed as a result of the cold. Some of it was due to the cold, some because of people needing to miss work to care for children because of school closures. Depending on the importance of specific workers, and their ability to work remotely, this at least delays some work getting completed. The permanence of any output loss will

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Back to blogging

January 31, 2019


Economist and economic historian with an interest in population analysis and demographic methods. Especially interested in natural disasters and disruptions to economic activity and changes in population dynamics, as well as fiscal and monetary policy with forecasting implications. Husband, father, Cubs fan.
View all posts by David

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Employment Comparisons for Grand Forks, ND

January 17, 2019

So despite the continued need to focus on wages I branched out a bit this week. Wage level growth, or the lack of it, can explain a significant amount of the problems for Grand Forks in terms of labor market dynamics as well as a general radio caller sense that things are not moving in the right direction. It seems to me that we should also look at a broader picture at the same time and bring in more labor market variables and some variables completely outside the labor market. In this post I decided to look at employment in five different counties.

This is total employees in private sector firms of all sizes. A few things jump out right at the start. There is remarkable stability in trajectory and rank order prior to 2010. There seems to be minimal deviation from long run

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Still more wages in ND

January 16, 2019

Of late my discussions on the Jarrod Thomas show centered on the issue of ranking the performance of Grand Forks. Ranking against whom is an open question that is still not even close to resolved. By default the early comparisons are against other places in the state, though for reasons we discussed on the radio and I mentioned in other posts, that does not feel like a perfect comparison.

Still it seems like the statewide comparison is what we have for now. With that in mind I looked at the average weekly wage for each county in North Dakota and compared it to the state average. I took the deviation as a percentage of the average weekly wage for the state, so you get a sense of how far away a county is from the state average. The grayed out county has no data available.


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Brexit Choices Going Forward

January 16, 2019

Well that was something! That was an enormous vote against the Prime Minister’s plan. It was some amazing theater as well to be honest. PM May gets up and says (correctly) that this vote does not say what people and MPs will support, just that they do not this plan. I also loved how she effectively dared Corbin to put forward a no confidence motion. In what has been a long series of political missteps that one was done right. This outcome leaves the future even less certain than we were already.

Leadership Change

May’s party cannot try to oust her for a year. It seems unlikely that the no confidence motion will pass unless there are defections out of the conservative block which seems very unlikely. The only way that would happen would be with some calculation that you can

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Student Brexit Poll

January 15, 2019


Economist and economic historian with an interest in population analysis and demographic methods. Especially interested in natural disasters and disruptions to economic activity and changes in population dynamics, as well as fiscal and monetary policy with forecasting implications. Husband, father, Cubs fan.
View all posts by David

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The Week Ahead: Brexit Vote

January 14, 2019

So at the advice of my brother-in-law I am writing a bit about things on my radar screen for the upcoming week. Probably few things are bigger this week than the Brexit vote in Parliament. As always I preface this with the fact that I am American and only have my information from reading magazines like the Economist and newspaper resources. I did ask my forecasting class to vote on this though, whether the May plan will pass or fail.

There are many potential lessons to learn from this whole debacle. First, on a referendum of importance like this you should very carefully establish the voting rules in terms of how many of the total available need to cast votes or the threshold needed for passage.

Second, it really is the case that the actual plan should be put up for a vote

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Another Look at ND Wage data

January 11, 2019

So after the post yesterday and some of the discussion today I realized I could smooth out the picture a bit more. I kind of kicked myself for breaking one of the main bits of guidance I give to my forecasting students. So I take a look at the quarterly data from last time, but this time we look at the percentage change from a year ago levels, thereby controlling for seasonal factors.

So the picture is a bit smoother than before and it has the virtue of comparison like quarters across years so it is a really good measure of the growth in the weekly wage. We still see Williams and Ward counties pretty much leading the pack, at the top and the bottom. Grand Forks is decidedly in the middle throughout, coasting along, not usually set apart on the top or the bottom.

This still

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Comparing ND City Economic Performance – Wages

January 10, 2019

So we do not really have resolution on the issue of the appropriate set of cities to include in a comparison of Grand Forks to peers. Last week on the radio we just did not arrive at a set of criteria. As a result I just started with comparisons within North Dakota. The general tone of the phone calls makes clear this matters to people, but we need to accept that it might be misguided to compare these cities.

I started by looking at quarterly average weekly wage. There are other indicators, but this is a frequent topic on air with varied opinions so again, a logical place to start. This data is available by county, but the good news is that North Dakota really does not have counties with more than one large city so this should still be a decent metric.

Well in the levels it

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