Daily Video

October 29, 2015

Energy boom spurs more diversity in rural American West


In the Western U.S., the energy boom has increased diversity in some of the country’s historically whitest states.

As employment opportunities remained low in the wake of the Great Recession, workers from a variety of backgrounds flocked to places like Wyoming, the Dakotas and Montana to take advantage of the well-paid jobs in oil and gas.

The black population in many of these states grew faster than anywhere else in the country between 2010 and 2014. In Wyoming, the black population has nearly doubled.

Newcomers looking steady work often brought their families with them. The diversity of local schools now reflects the newer population of the energy boom regions.

Ray Stewart followed his parents to rural Wyoming from Shreveport, Louisiana in pursuit of work. He ended up meeting his wife and starting a family, but said being one of the only African Americans in the area means he has had to learn with ignorant comments on occasion. His friend Steve Marsh moved from Chicago in 2008. Marsh says the transition from diverse urban areas to the rural West was not easy.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask, ‘can I touch your hair? I’ve never seen a black person before’,” Marsh said.

Although North Dakota now has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, the continuing decline in oil prices has led to the loss of 5,000 jobs in the state this year.

The fact that many workers now have families living in the region may encourage them to stay, but South Dakota second grade teacher Cassandra Longbrake said the economic uncertainty shows in her classroom.

“I have had a few students that have come, they have enrolled in school, and a week later they’re gone,” she said.


Great Recession — the sharp decline in economic activity in 2007-2011, generally considered the largest downturn since the Great Depression

fracking – the process of drilling into the ground before a high-pressure water mixture is injected into the rock to release the gas inside

demographics – characteristics, including education levels, race, religion, and ethnicity, in large groups of people that are measured over a period of time

Warm up questions
  1. Why would a person consider moving far away from home for a job?
  2. What are some differences that a person might experience if he/she moved from an urban to a rural area? From a rural to an urban area?
  3. What are some examples in history when large numbers of people moved to a new place for work?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How do you think this community will be different in 5 years, 10 years?
  2. How do you think Selam Ahmed’s background as an immigrant could help him to connect to some of his students?
  3. What are the risks of moving somewhere based on an economic “boom”?
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