Even as the national economy is mired with high unemployment, the joblessness rate in North Dakota is extremely low and in remote Williston—the center of the state’s oil boom—it’s extremely low. So low that there’s noplace to live:
Many newcomers are, like Mr. Ripka, middle-age family men angling for a fresh financial start. Builders cannot throw up homes fast enough to house them; an estimated 1,200 housing units are expected to be completed in Williston in the next few months, and one-bedroom apartments rent for $1,700 or more a month, if they are available. With an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 job openings in the area, many men live where they can — in their cars, or in illegally parked campers — and send their earnings to their families while they hunt for housing.
As I wrote for Bloomberg, the good news out of North Dakota is that the supply shortage won’t last forever. More houses will be built, living conditions will improve, real wages will rise, and while the Williston economy will always be a tiny slice of the American pie it will grow and get better. But we can’t say the same about housing scarcity in San Francisco, San Jose, and the peninsula between them. We can’t say the same in Boston and its suburbs, or the New York Metropolitan Area, or Washington DC the costly suburban jurisdictions of Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Montgomery Counties. We can’t say the same about downtown Seattle. In all these major metro areas the rent is too damn high and they’re all destined to play a major larger role in the national economy than Williston, North Dakota ever will. After all the entire population of North Dakota amounts to about a quarter of the population of Brooklyn alone.