Should black folks go to North Dakota for work? It might sound like a strange question, but it is worth exploring. With unemployment at the highest levels in decades, people are demanding that the president and Congress act now to create jobs for the millions who need it. President Obama has been criticized for being slow on the uptake and not addressing the jobs crisis sooner. And Congress has been accused of being interested in little else than holding back the president, and the economy, in order to score political points.
For the black community, with chronically high levels of unemployment, what is to be done? The government is no longer reliable as a leading career path for African-Americans. While it was once the case that there was always work at the post office, even the post office is facing a shutdown. Without question, Americans should demand more from their elected leaders.
But there is a school of thought emerging that proactive measures are necessary on the part of the jobless. And for African-Americans, who are unemployed at a rate double that of the rest of the country, you may want to consider moving to where the jobs are.
WATCH NBC NIGHTLY NEWS COVERAGE OF THE ‘BOOMTOWN’ IN NORTH DAKOTA:
Right now, North Dakota is booming. With the lowest unemployment (3.3 percent in July) and nearly the highest job growth in the nation, this northern Midwestern state bordering on Canada is the place to be (its other neighbors, Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota, have unemployment rates substantially lower than the national average).
Plus, crime in North Dakota is low and the housing market is stable, and its state-owned bank partners with business and fills up the state coffers. Earlier this year, Gallup found that North Dakota was the third best place for well-being, after Hawaii and Wyoming.
And much of the secret to North Dakota’s success is its black gold. According to the U.S. geological Survey there are at least 4 billion barrels of oil under the ground, perhaps four or five times that amount. Oil and natural gas wells are springing up in the North Dakota, in what some are calling the biggest oil boom in a long time. There are more jobs than houses, and even McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are paying $15 and $20 an hour. At a time when states are suffering from budget shortfalls and are forced to make deep cuts, North Dakota enjoys a budget surplus. People are flocking there in the hopes of making their fortunes, so why not blacks?
North Dakota and other states with a high well-being index and surprisingly low unemployment rate — including states in the Midwest, West and New England regions — are not the places that black folks would first consider as an option. North Dakota is 90 percent white, only 5.4 percent Native American, 1.2 percent black, and 1 percent Asian. Moreover, with a population under 673,000, North Dakota is less than one-tenth the size of Los Angeles County, a quarter the size of Brooklyn, and smaller than Detroit —not exactly inviting for many black urban dwellers.But with unemployment as high as it is, black folks may need to begin looking for work in places they never would have considered. Meanwhile, venturing outside of our comfort zone to make a new life for ourselves is not a brand new concept. African-Americans, like any other group, travel to where the opportunities take them.
During the Great Northern Migration that took place in the early part of the twentieth century through World War II, 1.6 million blacks left the rural South and moved to northward. They left to escape the remnants of slavery that existed in the form of Jim Crow segregation, Klan terrorism and the economic exploitation of Southern sharecropping.
After the war through 1960, another 3 million black people departed from the South to scattered locations on the West Coast, as well as in Midwestern and Eastern cities. This migration, one of the largest in U.S. history, dramatically changed the look, feel and flavor of cities such as Chicago, New York, L.A., and Philly, and fundamentally altered American culture forever.
The industrial North was no promised land, however, and from the 1960s and escalating from the 1990s onward, America has witnessed the reverse-migration of blacks back to the “new promised land” of the South.
It’s all in the numbers. For example, from 2000 to 2009, the Atlanta metropolitan area gained 500,000 black residents, while the New York City area lost 55,000 black residents. The South now has its largest percentage of African-Americans since 1960. In addition, 20 of 25 cities with a population of at least 250,000 and a 20 percent black population either lost more black people or gained fewer in the past decade than in the 1990s.
This trend has also affected such black bastions as Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Cleveland and Atlanta (the city of Atlanta shed black residents, even as the black population of its metropolitan area soared). Population declines were caused by middle and upper-middle class blacks heading for the suburbs, the aging of the African-American population, and blacks leaving the North for booming cities in the South.
What people are learning is that dire circumstances require aggressive action and new ways of thinking. Perhaps a place like North Dakota might not appeal to you. And during a time of global warming and the promise of green jobs, working in the oil industry might not be your cup of tea.
You may even decide to tough it out where you are, or band together with others and dabble in some of that cooperative economics (Ujamaa), that untapped spirit of entrepreneurship which many celebrate at Kwanzaa time. Nevertheless, with joblessness and poverty as high as they are — with no signs of improving anytime in the foreseeable future — the idea of striking out on your own and taking a chance in an unfamiliar place must at least become part of the mix.