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North Dakota one of top states for working 50 or more hours per week

Laurie Seifert Williams, project manager at Livewire, manages the afternoon session of TEDxFargo from backstage Thursday, July 26, at the Fargo Civic Center. Erin Bormett / Forum News Service

FARGO—Laurie Seifert Williams works long hours as a project manager for a firm that produces live events. Her work week ranges anywhere from 45 hours to 93 hours, depending on the number and intensity of events.

"No, I am not kidding," she said. "In the live event industry, we have to work when there is work—there is no rescheduling our clients because we are too busy."

This week, as it happens, has been a very busy week. The firm Seifert Williams works for, Livewire Entertainment Media Services, produced the TEDxFargo conference at the Civic Memorial Auditorium.

Seifert Williams is hardly alone in working long hours. The percentage of North Dakota residents working 50 hours per week or more is well above the national average. More than one in five workers—22 percent—report working at least 50 hours per week, according to the North Dakota Census Office.

That compares to the national rate of 17 percent and is second only to Alaska. But work in Alaska tends to be more seasonal, so employees in North Dakota work more days. North Dakota also has the highest labor force participation rate.

"It kind of indicates we are the hardest working of the 50 states," said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office.

A few attributes of those who work 50 or more hours per week:

  • More men than women work mega hours: 33 percent of men and 9 percent of women work at least 50 hours per week. Women, of course, are more likely to have primary responsibility for child care or elder care.
  • Only 3 percent of those who work at least 50 hours per week are estimated to be below the poverty line, compared to 11 percent who work less than 50 hours per week.
  • Those who are self-employed are far more likely to work more than 40 hours. Almost half of those who are self-employed—48 percent—work at least 50 hours per week.

North Dakota, with its high percentage of farmers and small business owners, has a workforce willing to stretch their work days.

"When you're working for yourself, there's no such thing as a 40-hour week," Iverson said.

For Seifert Williams, the motivation is dedication to her craft and the enjoyment of doing something well.

"I did choose this," she said, noting that she had a background in theater and music before working in the events industry. "I was fully aware of the hours and inconsistent schedule."

Working long hours was more difficult when she was raising a daughter, who is now 25, and working for the entertainment industry in California. But she acknowledges the long work hours do come at a personal cost.

"It takes significant time away from all your personal relationships," Seifert Williams said. But her friends are like-minded, also passionate about their work. "My circle of friends is very understanding."

Matt Scheid of Fargo works between 60 and 90 hours per week, depending upon the season. His drives a taxi cab, but he also runs his own website, which he considers his career.

"For me it comes down to whether I want to succeed in what I'm doing and see my dreams become reality or spend my life in any of the menial, low-wage jobs that are available," he said. "I don't want to do those sorts of jobs into my 40s, 50s or 60s or beyond, so I work long hours now for the chance that five, 10, 15 years from now I won't have to."

Average weekly wages in Fargo, $961 as of the end of last year, lagged behind the national average of $1,109, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But when cost of living is factored in, North Dakota cities compare favorably, Iverson said.

He cited a recent ranking by the Brookings Institution comparing wages, taxes and the cost of living for millennials. The study showed that California had the highest median salary for millennials at about $50,000 a year. But once the cost of living and taxes are counted, workers would be better off financially moving to North Dakota, where earnings would be about $33,000, according to the study's authors.

"It seems North Dakotans are doing pretty well," said Iverson, who also pointed to census estimates showing North Dakota ranks 12th in per-capita income and benefits.

North Dakota has a culture with a strong work ethic, Iverson and Seifer Williams agree.

"I think it's absolutely a work ethic thing," she said, saying she inherited her devotion to work from her father. "When you work, you work hard. I absolutely think it's a cultural thing."

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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