FARGO (AP) - As the United States' population ages, North Dakota has found the fountain of youth, and experts say the state's booming economy is a key factor.
North Dakota has the largest proportion of 20- to 24-year-olds in the nation - more than 9 percent of the population - according to an analysis of 2012 U.S. Census population estimates. And its median age dropped from 37 to 36.1 in just two years - an enormous change in such a short window, state census office manager Kevin Iverson told The Forum newspaper.
The data is more evidence of how much the state's economy has grown, driven by high prices for farm commodities and the western oil boom.
"When you're 20, it's just easier to go where the jobs are at," Iverson said. "You've got a trunk full of stuff and you're on four wheels and you go where you need to go."
Just 10 years ago, North Dakota's young adults were leaving by the thousands, contributing to annual population losses and a grim outlook for the state.
A 2002 report from the State Data Center pegged the outmigration of young adults as a major trend and concern. Population had been stagnant since the 1980s, and the report projected that 1,000 20- to 24-year olds would leave the state by 2005. By 2025, the count would climb above 6,000, the report said.
But that trend has reversed, as North Dakota's young adult count grew more than twice as fast as its total population between 2010 and 2012. Iverson said his research shows that population growth isn't limited to the oil fields - it's spread across the entire state.
Jessica Herd, 24, moved to North Dakota this summer from her college town of Tallahassee, Fla., for a job on Microsoft's Fargo campus.
"Opportunity is here. This is the place to start," she said. "That's what attracts people our age."
Michael Ziesch, a manager in the Labor Market Information Center at Job Service North Dakota, said officials have seen the growth of the state's young adult population in many industries, particularly mining, construction, retail and hospitality.
"In terms of opportunity, it's really a young job-seekers market," he said.