North Dakota loses lowest jobless rate as oil prices slide

AP News
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Posted: Mar 27, 2015 5:42 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — For the first time in more than six years, North Dakota doesn't have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, due in part to sliding oil drilling activity spurred by low crude prices.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday show North Dakota's jobless rate in February was 2.9 percent, up from 2.8 percent in January. Nebraska now has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.7 percent.

"Second place is still a very, very positive position to be in," said Michael Ziesch, a manager for the state's employment agency, Job Service North Dakota in Bismarck. "We still have an incredibly low unemployment rate, but the depressed price of oil has had an influence on us, certainly."

North Dakota is the No. 2 oil producer behind Texas. North Dakota's unprecedented oil bonanza began in 2008, the same year the state grabbed the title of having the lowest jobless rate in the nation, Ziesch said.

The price of North Dakota sweet crude has fallen by nearly half from a year ago, to about $47 a barrel. The number of drill rigs in western North Dakota's oil patch this week slipped below 100 for the first time in five years due to the sagging price of crude.

There were 97 rigs drilling in North Dakota on Friday, 99 fewer than the same day one year ago and the lowest since March 2010. Each active rig represents about 175 direct and indirect jobs in North Dakota.

North Dakota is producing about 1.1 million barrels of oil daily, and industry officials say about 115 rigs are needed to maintain that pace.

Federal data show North Dakota is among only a handful of states where the unemployment rate has risen in the past year. But Ziesch said the state still has some 21,000 more jobs than takers.

"This certainly isn't anything drastic," he said of the small increase in the state's jobless rate.

North Dakota could regain its low jobless-rate crown this summer with massive construction projects that are planned.

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple last month signed legislation fast-tracking $1.1 billion for highways and communities affected by North Dakota's exploding growth. The bulk of the money will be spent in in western North Dakota's oil-producing region, which has been overwhelmed with spending needs on roads, utilities, housing and schools.