The above-linked article reports that the lowest unemployment in the nation is found in the state of North Dakota. The article cites a number of factors but, of course, makes no linkage to population density. With a population density of only nine people per square mile, North Dakota is the fourth most sparsely populated state in the nation, beaten only by Montana (6 people/square mile), Wyoming (5 people per square mile) and Alaska (1 person per square mile). A coincidence? I think not.
However, if I were to simply make a linkage between North Dakota’s low population density and their low unemployment rate, one could easily refute my argument by pointing to other states with low population density and high rates of unemployment. Nevada, for example, with a population density of only 22 people per square mile has an unemployment rate of more than 12%, the highest in the nation.
The only way to settle the argument is to do a scatter chart of the unemployment rate for all 50 states and see whether a pattern emerges. This is something I’ve not done before, since a cursory examination of the data shows a lot of scatter, and since free trade between the 50 states tends to level out unemployment across the nation, exporting jobs from low density states to high density states and exporting unemployment in the other direction, exactly in the same way that it works between nations on a global scale.
But this single data point for North Dakota compelled me to finally compile the data and see whether any relationship is evident at all, or if the data produces a shotgun scatter with zero correlation. The following is the result:
In spite of the unemployment-leveling effects of free trade between the states, a relationship does indeed emerge. Yes, there’s a lot of scatter, but the relationship becomes evident when the trend line (that line that begins near zero and slowly rises along the bottom of the graph) is inserted and the “coefficient of determination” is calculated. If no relationship existed, the trend line would be flat and the coefficient of determination would be zero. A perfect relationship would have all of the data points fall in line (either a straight line or a curved line) and the coefficient of determination would be “1”.
In this case, there is a definite upward trend which follows a “power” equation, and the coefficient of determination is .14 – weak, but a definite correlation. Getting back to Nevada, the state one would use to refute my argument, it must be remembered that within my theory that relates population density to per capita consumption (and thus to unemployment), what’s important is not actual population density but “effective” population density; that is, the population divided not by the total area but by the inhabitable area. And a major fraction of Nevada is indeed uninhabitable, thanks to vast deserts and moutainous regions. The “effective” population density of Nevada is actually quite high. If just that one data point out of 50 is removed from the data set, the coefficient of determination rises to .18.
Looking at the data another way, let’s divide the states evenly around the median population density of 95 people per square mile. Among the more densely populated 25 states, only 8 have unemployment rates of less than 8%. Among the less densley populated 25 states, there are 15 such states. Only one state in the more densley populated half of states has an unemployment rate of less than 6% – New Hampshire. There are five such states in the less densely populated half of states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Vermont.
The moral of this story? If you’re unemployed, think about moving to one of these less densely populated states. (Of course, if everyone did that, those states would soon no longer be sparsely populated, nor would they have low rates of unemployment.) Secondly, contrary to what most people would say, a growing population in your state is not good for its economy. Get involved in promoting legislation that discourages illegal immigration and encourage your federal legislators to oppose high rates of immigration in general – both legal and illegal. Finally, consider what happens when less densely populated nations like the U.S. trade freely with those far more populated. If you do, you’ll also want to encourage your legislators to demand changes to U.S. trade policy.
If you like unemployment, then just keep quiet about trade and immigration policy. It’ll get worse. If you don’t like it, then find out what really lies at the core of the problem and start demanding changes.