All together, I have lived for a total of five years in Dickinson, North Dakota. I first came to Dickinson in May of 2011, from Idaho, because I had heard about the oil boom. The economy had turned bad in Idaho in 2009, about two years later than most other places in the United States.
The area of Idaho that I lived in had experienced a housing boom that started in approximately year 2000. People in California that owned ordinary single family homes, discovered that they may have had $400,000 to $1,000,000 equity in their home, due to rapidly increasing real estate prices in California. California was congested, had terrible traffic jams, high taxes, and crime. California home owners began selling their homes in order to move to Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Montana.
The California home owners could sell their home, buy a new home in AZ, UT, ID, and MT for $200,000, and have $200,000 to $800,000 left over to use as retirement money. Many young men in AZ, UT, ID, and MT worked in construction, concrete, dry wall, earth work, electrical, framing, plumbing, roofing, etc. When real estate prices dropped in 2007, due in part to wide spread mortgage fraud, “derivatives”, and a naturally occurring market reset, the construction jobs went away not long afterwards.
Myself, and many other people involved in construction began to have much less work, and make much less money. These construction workers were the majority of the out of state workers that came to work in western North Dakota. Reporters or local people may have wanted to describe the people who came as being from diverse backgrounds, but this was not the case, they were mostly construction workers.
When I arrived in Dickinson in 2011, within one week I had a job where I was earning about $1,100 per week, due to working overtime hours. Able bodied, semi-skilled construction workers were able to obtain employment making $15 to $20 per hour, with roughly twenty hours of overtime each week.
I thought that my financial problems were over, I was making much more money than I had been making. The majority of the out of state workers felt this way. But every winter, I would have not very much money saved up when I wanted or planned to go back to Idaho, and I wondered what had happened, and where the money had gone.
For all of the out of state construction/oil field workers, myself included, one of the biggest and worst “hidden” costs, was Snacks. Every morning, most workers would stop at a gas station convenience store and buy about three to four Gatorades, a sandwich, potato chips, brownies, etc., which would add up to $20 more or less. There would not be anywhere to stop later in the day possibly, or there possibly would not be time, so you had to try to get enough things to last all day.
Back in 2011, there were very long lines at the grocery stores, tremendously long lines at WalMart, and most workers did not have the time or the energy to stand in a long line at WalMart after working for twelve hours. The gas station convenience store shopping continued in the evening, due to the long lines at the grocery stores and WalMart.
How bad is this problem? Let me give you an astonishing example. My co-worker/supervisor told me that he made $135,000 in year 2015. He paid over $45,000 in income taxes that year. Though there should have been $90,000 left over, he has nothing to show for it, and he does not know where that money went. I told him that it was partly due to Snacks.
In the morning, every morning, he spends $20 or more at a convenience store on food, drinks, etc.. The same thing happens at lunch time, and the same thing happens at night on his way home. That is at least $60 per day, $420 per week, $1,800 per month, and $21,600 per year, on Snacks!
His Snack payment each month, is equal to what a mortgage payment would be on a $275,000 house. His Snack payment each month, would make the make the payments on two new four wheel drive trucks.
There are several things that caused all of the out of state workers to spend a tremendous amount of money in a way that was wasteful. Most of the out of state workers did not have wives and girlfriends with them, due to adverse conditions, especially the cost of housing. Wives and girlfriends could have done shopping during the day, and obtained food and drinks at 20% to 30% of the cost of a convenience store. Wives and girlfriends, if they had any sense and wanted to have anything for themselves, would have grasped the enormous amount of money that the oil field workers were wasting every day.
Besides the out of state workers not having wives or girlfriends with them, most out of state workers did not want to come back to their local housing at night. Housing was very, very expensive, which meant having a bunch of room mates in order to live in a house or nice apartment, living in a small camper, living in a man camp dormitory, or living in a small old decrepit apartment. Out of state workers went to eat at restaurants every night and out to bars every night for several hours in order to not have to be around their room mates or face the depressing fact that they were living in a small camper.