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The discussion between Thompson and local officials also focused on how the census can work around the oil patch’s unique working conditions.

In a place where growth constantly outpaces maps and many people don’t have mailing addresses, the census bureau cannot rely on data from the Postal Service for addresses. They will have to locate homes on foot. With jobs in retail and fast-food restaurants starting at more than $15 an hour in places like Williston, the Census Bureau will need to hike its rates to attract employees, Thompson said.

They will also have to look at nontraditional homes like hotels, said Christa Jones, special assistant to the director. Many people working in the oil patch live in barracks-style worker camps, trailers and hotel rooms rented by companies.

Thompson was invited to visit the area by North Dakota U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

Heitkamp said she is mulling legislation that would take North Dakota’s oil boom into account, perhaps by looking at ways programs can calculate aid without depending on census numbers.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a phenomena such as this in any other state other than Alaska,” she said, referring to the state’s oil boom that began in the late 1970s.


Associated Press writer James MacPherson contributed to this story from Bismarck, N.D.