The AP Finds the Dark Side of the Boom

As we have often noted, North Dakota is booming. This is what happens when you have a great business climate and develop your energy resources. Currently, there are more jobs than people in North Dakota, and workers from around the country are pouring into that little-populated state to earn six-figure incomes in the oil fields and supporting industries. Like every boom, this has consequences; among them, a housing shortage and rising house prices and rents. This is great if you own a home, not so great if you are a renter.

One might think that if the Associated Press were to write about North Dakota, it would focus on the state’s explosive growth and the lessons that other states might learn from North Dakota’s example. But no! The AP finds the dark side of the boom: “N.D. oil boom pushes seniors out.”

After living all of her 82 years in the same community, Lois Sinness left her hometown this month, crying and towing a U-Haul packed with her every possession.

She didn’t want to go, but the rent on her $700-a-month apartment was going up almost threefold because of heightened demand for housing generated by North Dakota’s oil bonanza. Other seniors in her complex and across the western part of the state are in the same predicament.

“Our rents were raised, and we did not have a choice,” Sinness said. “We’re all on fixed incomes, living mostly on Social Security, so it’s been a terrible shock.”

Poor Mrs. Sinness had to move from Williston to Bismarck, where her daughter lives. Some would consider this a step up. But not the Associated Press. And, of course, Grandmas who own their own homes–a large majority, no doubt–are experiencing a windfall as home prices skyrocket.

The skyrocketing cost of living is all the talk at the senior center in downtown Williston.

“Grandma can’t go to work in the oil fields and make a 150 grand a year,” said A.J. Mock, director of the Williston Council for the Aging. Many of the seniors who are moving out “have lived here their entire lives and wanted to live here until they die.”

Ellavon Weber, 88, is getting elbowed out of the state entirely. She’s reluctantly moving to Arizona, where two of her three children live, leaving behind friends, her church and her weekly aerobics classes, as well as pinochle games and quilting bees. She says she will even miss the brutal winters.

Is this a comedy routine? The cruel consequence of explosive wealth creation is that Grandma has to join her children in Arizona, and can no longer enjoy brutal winters? The rest of the country should be so lucky!

It is easy to ridicule this kind of perversely sentimental reporting, but journalists do the country a real disservice by distorting their coverage of economic issues to such an absurd degree. It is no wonder that most people have a hard time deciphering economic issues, when most of what they read in the newspapers is nonsense.


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