7 March 2013
Welcome to the Boom Town
In late 2012, oil was found in Williston, North Dakota. Over the past six years, North Dakota has risen from being the ninth-leading oil producing state to the second. In the past ten years, the population of Williston has nearly doubled, from 16,000 to just over 30,000. Wages rose alongside population, from about $32,000 a year in 2006, to about $80,000 a year in 2011. Although Williston has become prosperous, they are currently ranked number one in the nation for the highest rent inflation and housing shortages. Apartments in Williston are costing the same, or exceeding the price of apartments in America’s biggest cities. Because of the housing shortage, Williston now has a severe homeless problem. There are plenty of jobs for everyone, but there is nowhere for these workers to live. Last year alone, the Salvation Army helped to move 200 people out of Williston. Williston, North Dakota is very similar to the towns that the Joad’s moved to in The Grapes of Wrath. The Joad’s and Williston residents experience similar hardships, such as homelessness and poverty. People moved to Williston in hope of a better future for themselves and their families, which is the same motivation the Joad’s had for leaving Oklahoma. Most of the people moving to Williston are not independently wealthy. They need a stable job and the oil boom seems to be their ticket to the good life. They move to Williston in hopes of prosperity, but once they arrive the reality of life there sets in: there are plenty of jobs to be had, but there are not enough places to live. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck says, ‘The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.’(5.24). The mayor of Williston has set forth a new housing plan that he hopes will mend the homelessness problem. Unfortunately, this plan will be ineffective immediately because of the funds and workers necessary to complete the project. People who were already living in Williston before the oil boom are also facing hard times. Because of the housing shortage, they are being forced to pay much more for their houses. In Williston, the amount for a one bedroom apartment is about $2,300 per month. This is equal to what it would cost to live in New York or Los Angeles. The bank in the book can be paralleled to the housing market in Williston. There is nothing residents of Williston can do about the heinous cost of living. They are trapped, just like the people in The Grapes of Wrath who are financially trapped by the bank and forced to move off of their land. Neither the tractor drivers in the book nor the real estate agents of Williston want to hurt people by forcing them off of their land nor by taking too much money for rent; they are trapped by the system too. The Joad’s and the residents of Williston are similar because they are both trapped by a system from which they cannot escape.
Initially, the oil strike in Williston was thought to have a positive effect, but over the last couple of years we can see that this is not the case. Even though there are more available jobs than people in Williston, these new workers are not living the dream they had envisioned. Because housing is so expensive, workers have looked to other forms of shelter. These include, a motel for $200 per night, and barrack style lodging for working men at $100 per night. Albeit that these workers are making around $80,000 per year, they are still not able to afford adequate lodging. For example, if one family were to stay in a hotel for a year with both parents working, it would cost them $73,000, almost half of their yearly income. Steinbeck says, [a disgruntled migrant worker:] “Fella in business got to lie an’ cheat, but he calls it somepin else. You go steal that tire an’ you’re a thief, but he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire. They call that sound business.” (12.31). The businesses in...