NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Workers are landing jobs that pay six-figures in the oil boomtowns of North Dakota. But the abundance of jobs and money comes with some steep trade-offs, including a lack of housing and extremely harsh winters.
At 3.5%, North Dakota’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the country. (Nationwide, the rate is 9.1%). But among the small towns that lie along the Bakken oil formation, like Williston, Watford City and Belfield, unemployment is just 1.5%.
Many of the highest-paying jobs are at oil companies, where workers make an average salary of about $100,000, often with little-to-no experience or need for a college degree.
Halliburton (Fortune 500), Continental Resources ( ), Hess ( , Fortune 500) and Whiting Petroleum ( ) are among some of the biggest players in the area. And jobs include everything from working on a rig to hauling crude and equipment in trucks to helping with administrative work, said Shawn Wenko, workplace development coordinator for the city of Williston.,
But it’s not just the oil companies that are hiring. The oil boom has brought such a big influx of people that every single industry — from hospitality to retail — has been hit with overwhelming demand as a result.
Driving down Main Street in the more than 20,000-person town of Williston, N.D., which has the highest average salary in the state of a little more than $57,000 and about 2,500 job openings at any given time, you’ll see one hiring sign after another.
At fast-food chains, the going rate is about $15 an hour. Hair salons, pharmacies, banks, hospitals, gas stations, bars and clothing stores are also desperately looking for employees and paying a pretty penny to keep them from defecting for the oil fields. Even the local strip club is booming, with dancers making up to $3,000 a night.
“If someone doesn’t have a job here, they don’t want to work,” said Wenko.
To find a job in Williston or any of the nearby oil towns, including Stanley, New Town, Tioga, Dickinson or Minot, check out North Dakota’s official job service portal, JOBSND.net, or visit job portals or Craigslist.org where there are several local postings.
But before picking up and moving across the country, there are a couple things to remember.
Many of these jobs — especially those working for the oil companies — require grueling hours and physical labor — from lifting equipment to getting dirty performing maintenance on oil wells. As a truck driver or oil field worker, in order to earn all of the coveted overtime pay, many employees only get 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night and then have to go straight back to work.
“We work insane hours,” said Benjamin Lukes, who gets an average of four hours of sleep a night as a hydraulic fracturer in Williston but earns about $100,000 a year — thanks in large part to overtime. “Over this two week cycle, I’ve worked 220 to 230 hours. We get more overtime than straight pay with all those hours, and that’s where the tradeoff is.”
But perhaps one of the biggest issues for workers here is housing. Those who don’t line up a place to live before moving out to North Dakota typically find themselves homeless after they arrive.
The thousands of workers and job seekers that flocked to the oil patch have led to a housing shortage in many of the towns in the area, forcing many newcomers and workers to sleep in their car (or in an RV) in the local Walmart parking lot or at a rest stop or campground. It’s a grim prospect no matter how you slice it, but even more grim as the North Dakota winter — with its close to negative 40-degree temperatures — fast approaches.
If you do find an apartment, it will be pricey. The surge in demand has caused rents to triple in some cases. Single-bedroom apartments are currently going for more than $1,500 a month, while two-to three-bedroom apartments are renting for upwards of $3,000.
Often times, however, you won’t find a place to live until you find a job. Some of the oil companies have built “man camps,” or dorm-style housing facilities (some of which are made out of cargo containers), for their workers, but there aren’t enough rooms for everyone.
In any of these living situations, it’s not easy to bring your family along for the ride. So many workers end up leaving their loved ones behind.
There is also a question of job security. It’s hard to know just how long the oil boom will last. Some estimates say the boom could go on for another three decades, while others say it could just be a matter of a few years before declining oil prices or a new regulatory environment could put an end to the boom that has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal job environment.