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Maybe We Should All Move To North Dakota

moving to North Dakota for high paying jobsI’m fascinated by the oil boom currently going on in parts of North Dakota. I really shouldn’t be surprised by boom and bust cycles. Most of Southwest Colorado was settled by miners looking to strike it rich in one way or another. I know maybe 10 or 12 people who have taken off to North Dakota for high paying jobs, and I admire that to some extent. I think we all want to make life easier and more manageable from a financial aspect, and these folks have taken the bull by the horns. If anyone is out of work right now, maybe they should move to North Dakota.

What’s Happening in North Dakota?

In case you’ve been living under a rock or just don’t pay much attention to the western states, there is a collection of things that are happening in North Dakota right now that give it the lowest unemployment rate in the country. A discovery of massive shale oil fields, new drilling and fracking techniques that make it possible to extract this oil, and our country’s attempts at lessening dependence on foreign oil have all mingled together to create an economic boom not seen in many years. You can read more about it here, but as of right now, the Unemployment rate in North Dakota is about 3.5%, and I’ve heard reports of certain areas with unemployment in the negative numbers, meaning there are way more jobs than people looking to fill them. A quote from this article in CNN Money in relation to North Dakota boom towns states that, “If someone doesn’t have a job here, they don’t want to work.”

What Kind of Jobs are Available In North Dakota?

If you’re willing to live in one of the oil boom towns like Williston, Watford City, or Belfield, you could do just about anything. Most people think all the jobs are in the oil fields and need to be manned by roughnecks, but that’s not the case. Although oil field workers can make $100,000 a year, there are other jobs to be had. Populations have doubled in some regions, creating a need for medical workers, police, teachers, engineers, and tons of jobs for unskilled workers without college degrees. McDonald’s is paying $15/hour with a sign up bonus. Strippers can make $3000 a night.  Since they can’t build fast enough to accommodate the population, just about any type job that revolves around infrastructure is available with much higher than average pay.

What’s the Downside?

As with anything that seems too good to be true, there are several trade offs for making money in North Dakota oil boom.

It’s Frickin’ Cold

Winters can easily see temperatures of -35 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Since a lot of oil field employees work outside, that really sucks if you enjoy having full use of all your fingers and toes. If you worked inside, that wouldn’t be so bad, but you’d still have to leave the house on most days.

You Might Not Have a House

There is a huge housing shortage in boom town areas. Most of the people I know who have gone to North Dakota live in RV’s or in dorm style apartments. I know one guy who bought a huge fifth wheel with two bathrooms so he could rent out half of it. The rent pays for his cost of the camper plus some, so he’s a landlord while making bank at his job! My daughter’s kindergarten teacher has a husband who works in Williston. She would move in a heartbeat if he could get permanent housing. Right now he works a few months at a time and comes home for several weeks. He only gets a place when he’s working. Rents are super high, with one bedrooms going for over $1500 a month. There is no ocean view in Williston, ND.

Oil Field Work is Tough

While I said there are many non-oil field jobs available, most of the people I know have  who moved to North Dakota have taken jobs in the oil industry. The work is hard and, like I said above, it’s COLD for much of the year. There is almost always overtime, and many workers only get a few hours of sleep a night. Some of the jobs are very dangerous,and working on no sleep makes them even more so. Planning a 20 year career as an oil field worker might mean your body wears out before your desire for work does.

Booms Always Bust

Just like with other boom cycles, the North Dakota oil rush will bust at some point. Even if there are 30 years of oil under the surface, you never know when environmental regulations or technological developments might make fracking illegal or obsolete. This probably wouldn’t affect transient workers as much, but if you invested in the community, it could blow up down the road.

Would I Move to North Dakota?

If I was making crap wages or couldn’t find a job, you bet I’d be there in a heartbeat. Years ago, I seriously considered taking a temporary job in Barrow, Alaska for an insane amount of money for the time worked. I ultimately decided against it because Jim and I were close to getting married, and I found a job here. If there were no other options, I would have been living in Barrow.

The other nice thing about this type market is that if your company provides housing or you can rent half of an RV cheaply, you could bank most of your money. Working for a few years could give you enough cash to buy a home outright in many areas of the country or jump start a path to retirement. I also know husbands who work in North Dakota so their wives can stay home with the kids. I’m all for working mothers, but if someone truly wants to stay home and can’t afford to, something like this is an option.

I think in summary, if you can bear the cold, find a place to live, and don’t depend too heavily on urban amenities, a move to North Dakota could be a smart idea, at least for the short term. For someone who doesn’t have good job prospects, North Dakota’s promise of $100,000 or more per year might be a great reason to move.

Would you move to North Dakota if it meant more money than you could make elsewhere? Could you leave your family behind for work?

Image: Wikipedia Commons


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Surprisingly I actually know quite also about the shale boom in the USA and North Dakota in particular. Australia had a mini shale boom about 3 years ago where a heap of stocks went ballistic. Unfortunately, most of them have now come back down to earth as the massive amount of shale coming from the USA has kept a lid on prices and so much of it remains locked in the ground.

    Some of the areas of land that are “supposed” to contain shale oil and gas are actually bigger than most countries over in the north of Western Australia.

    To answer your question – I could have moved prior to having a wife and child, but now I wouldn’t even consider it.

    • That’s really interesting. I had no idea Australia had a similar event. I do suspect this boom will end, but who knows how long it might last?

  2. Hi Kim, I always think it’s a great idea to test these ideas when opportunities present themselves. For me personally, there’s no way I’d do it though, and would definitely not leave my family behind for work. We’ve worked hard to create our current lifestyle that works so well for us (in Australia), and I greatly value the time I get to spend with them and the neighbourhood where we live. I think it would take a hell of a lot more money to convince me to uproot this lifestyle – this just has too much value to me at this point in my life.

  3. I have a friend who has worked in North Dakota off and on the past five years or so, and he has a first-hand viewpoint of what oil field work is like. He describes the situation as “the wild west” and the prices for just about everything are sky high. They can’t build housing fast enough so people will rent out tiny bedrooms for crazy prices, and share it with someone who has a shift opposite of them. From the things he described, I would not recommend the move, especially if it’s a family move and not just an individual looking to make a lot of money very quickly on the oil fields.

    • The people I know try to mostly live in RV’s and take most of the stuff they need to maximize savings. It does kind of remind you of Wyatt Earp days or something.

  4. it would be touch to “uproot,” but if it meant creating a better life, you bet I’d move. Even if the state tree is a telephone pole.

  5. It’s colder than fricken cold in ND… But the area is beautiful, if you like spacious prairies. And low taxes.

    • I guess if you can find housing, it’s pretty dang cheap to live in ND. Too bad you don’t have an apartment complex there!

  6. I don’t think I would endure those conditions. The money is tempting, but there being a housing shortage and having to either pay high prices or share an RV doesn’t really appeal to me. I agree with your assessment and think it’s valuable for those that are in a tight spot right now, and could really use the money to pay off debt or boost savings.

    • The people I know are really taking advantage. I think the consensus is that it’s hard work, but a great way to have other things in the future by sacrificing time and effort now.

  7. Sounds I need to move to ND and become a stripper =) Just kidding.

    I saw a Dateline special about the lack of affordable housing in regions where oil is booming. It would’ve been nice to own some real estate there before the boom.

  8. My Dad knows a few people who have moved to ND since he lives in Montana. I’d definitely consider it if it were just me or if we could find decent housing with having the kids. The cold doesn’t bother me much, but I’m quite certain my wife would have issues with it though. 🙂

  9. If I couldn’t find a job, then hell yes I would go. it is tough work, but you are justly compensated for it. As you say, booms always bust eventually, but I think that has at least a few good years of earning a lot of money. Why not take advantage of it?

    • I would totally be on the first bus, train, however you get there if I was broke and had no job prospects.

  10. I was living under a rock. lol! I did not know about this at all! If my situation were pretty desperate, I’d consider it. But I’d probably exercise all other options first. Wow $1500 for rent?!? That’s more than I pay here!

  11. Ha! I have actually been really fascinated with what has been happening in North Dakota too and when you see the employment figures up there, you do start to wonder if you should move. If I was unemployed and didn’t have much luck where I am now, I would seriously consider moving. It’s what our forefathers did when the gold rush happened and look how well it turned out for building the west coast of our country.

    • I think this is our modern equivalent to the gold rush. I wonder how it will play out years down the road, if ND will do it right or if it will all bust and make the state worse off down the line.

  12. I’ve read about the boom there and the high paying jobs. I couldn’t work in the fields, but I thought…hmmm, it would be a great idea to invest in real property or businesses there! Maybe a food truck or something. I think if I was unemployed, I’d definitely move to where the jobs are. And as for leaving family…it’s tough but if you are in dire financial straits…it might be your only choice. Sometimes you have to sacrifice.

    • A difference for a family of four making $25K a year vs $100K a year without any extra education or training would be pretty tempting.

  13. Ha! “Frickin’ Cold” – to me really, really, REALLY Frickin’ cold! I had heard about the situation in North Dakota. I think if I were in dire straits in would have to be considered, although I’m not sure if I would be comfortable with a permanent move. Mainly because I’m concerned about when the boom ends. Housing is scarce but if you’re coming with a family you’re going to be interesting in buying a home, which I imagine you pay for a premium for … but what happens later. Will the city still thrive or collapse? I’d be more interested in earning a lot to use to settle somewhere else.

    • I would be the same way. If you could hack living in a mobile home for a few years, you could almost buy a home outright in many areas of the country if you were frugal and saved most of the salary.

  14. I agree with Glen – I think I would move there if I were single, but from what I hear it isn’t much of a place to raise a family.

    I had a friend in the Army that served over in Iraq. He said contractors over there were making $300K – $400K a year doing various odd jobs. Great pay if you’re willing to stand the 150F temperatures during the day and the potential of getting blown up 🙂

    • I think ND is much safer than that and certain areas of the state are probably great family towns. Maybe not so much in the rougher areas with mostly oil workers for the population. I can’t really say as I’ve never been there myself.

  15. Yeah it’s a modern day gold rush scenario. I remember my Dad considering going overseas to fight fires for an outrageous amount of money, he ultimately decided against it because of family, but anyone who is single and doesn’t have great job, should really consider it, I know I would.

    I’m pretty interested in the Real Estate aspect of it, I’m surprised there is not more shanty type camps and real estate developers out there.

  16. I could never leave my family behind for work. Then again, it’s just Ana and I, so I’m sure if I made the decision to go, she would come along for the ride. However, I don’t think I would leave Oregon for more money. I’m perfectly content with what I make now, and I get to live in a beautiful state on top of that. I absolutely love it here!

    • Quality of life adds lots of value on top of any salary you make. Money certainly doesn’t mean better.

  17. North Dakota is really freakin cold. I can’t imagine my life if I moved there because I don’t like cold places. I used to live in hot places.

  18. I know a lot of people that considered moving to ND, but I don’t think anyone actually went. There is a major shortage of attorneys up there. I heard tales that firms were hiring anyone that was willing to move up there and commit to 5+ years. The salaries I heard were pretty generous, even for attorneys. I prefer civilization over money and the wild west– I didn’t even look into it.

    • You do realize that North Dakota is in the United States, don’t you? Why they even have electricity and cell phone coverage up there. And I think that it is actually considered to be the upper Midwest….not the Wild West. Plus, their crime rate is much lower than other so-called civilized places like NYC, Chicago etc.

    • I don’t think North Dakota is for everyone.

  19. I would not mind living in ND, but I’m not sure I’d want to live in one of the oil towns. I think those parts of ND have seen a rise in crime since the oil boom. Plus you can’t drive more than a block without seeing a tanker truck!! (I was just there a couple months ago) It’s crazy.

    • I’ve never been to North Dakota, but as I said in the post. This fascinates me. I’d love to see it actually, tankers and all.

  20. I’ve heard that some McDonald’s jobs are paying even higher than you quote….$20 an hour. Maybe some of those minimum wage protestors should stop whining and move to ND.

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