Minnesota Cities Magazine

Let's Talk: The Changing Demographics of Minnesota

Demographic data is a critical tool. City officials use it to make sure they are doing all they can to meet the needs of their local population. Minnesota Cities recently talked with State Demographer Susan Brower to find out her agency’s role and some of the trends she is seeing in our state demographics.

Minnesota State Demographer Susan BrowerMinnesota Cities: Can you describe your role as state demographer?
Susan Brower: It’s a role I love and feel incredibly lucky to fill. I have the opportunity to put demographic data into the hands of people who use it to improve our state. This includes providing information that helps public officials, businesses, and others understand racial inequities, locate data on a segment of the population, appreciate needs in their area, and plan for demographic changes.

Our office, the Minnesota State Demographic Center, is part of the state Department of Administration, and it is nonpartisan. Some of our activities include preparing population and household estimates for all communities in the state every year except when we have the decennial census, and issuing population projections for counties and higher geographies (such as regions) to help everyone plan for the future.

The State Demographic Center is a small but mighty office. We are a staff of four researchers (including myself), and we regularly give public presentations, interpret trends for the media, issue reports and web content, and respond to more than 300 data requests each year.

MC: What are the major demographic trends that city officials should be aware of?
SB: The aging of our population in Minnesota is unprecedented. As the Baby Boomers increasingly advance into their retirement years, we will have more older adults (65+) than we have ever seen—both in numbers and as a percent of our total population (rising from 13 percent to 21 percent of our residents between 2010 and 2030).

We also have an interesting trend in our labor market. Presently, we have about one job seeker for every job vacancy in Minnesota, without regard for geographic or skill matches. The labor market is already tight, and the demographic trends over the next 15 years will heighten this challenging environment for employers to find the workers they need.

Finally, our populations of color are driving our population growth, which makes it imperative to secure better health, education, and economic outcomes for all Minnesotans.

MC: Does Minnesota have a net increase or decrease in population after accounting for immigration and people moving away?
SB: Overall, Minnesota has experienced recent population gains due to migration, broadly speaking. But there are two components to migration—state-to-state movement (or domestic migration) and international movement. Since the early 2000s, Minnesota has lost more residents to other states than it has gained each year, so our domestic migration has been a net negative. However, international arrivals have more than offset those domestic losses, so on the whole, we have grown from migration.

The international arrivals include legal permanent residents, undocumented individuals, those arriving with work visas, foreign students, and refugees, among others. Seen through an economic lens, we are fortunate to have these additional workers, as we need them to fill jobs at all skill levels. (For more information on migration patterns, check out our “Minnesota on the Move” report at http://bit.ly/1NlN3wE.)

MC: Are there parts of the state where the portion of residents over age 65 already exceeds the portion of younger residents?
SB In 35 counties, more than one in five residents is already 65 or older—a milestone we expect the state as a whole to hit in 2030. These counties are generally in more rural areas of the state, where services are thinner and greater distances can complicate service delivery.

However, while the percentage of older adults (65+) is highest in areas of Greater Minnesota, our population on the whole is concentrated in and around the Twin Cities and other regional cities. As a result, almost half (48 percent) of all the older adults in Minnesota live in these six counties: Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Anoka, St. Louis, and Washington.

Our projections show that Minnesota’s statewide 65+ population will surpass the 5-17 (typical school-age) population by 2020, and that older adults will be more numerous than the entire child population under age 18 by 2035.

MC: What kinds of changes do you think cities should be considering to adapt to an aging population?
SB: Obviously, listening to current and soon-to-be older adult residents about their needs, challenges, and vision for their own lives can help cities to respond and plan. Cities can catalog existing local services and offerings for older adults, make the information easily available, and identify gaps. Spreading awareness about the need for long-term care planning among families is another critical function, and the “Own Your Future” website prepared by the Minnesota Department of Human Services is a great place to begin. An aging population will likely shift the demand for housing stock and transportation options, too. These are just a few of the many impacts.

MC: Describe the racial/ethnic diversity trends in Minnesota. How is the state population makeup changing in terms of race and ethnicity?
SB: In 2014, Minnesota’s population was 81 percent non- Hispanic white, but the makeup of our population is changing rapidly. Between 2000 and 2014, the non-Hispanic white population grew by only 2 percent (adding about 107,000 people). By comparison, all populations of color grew by 74 percent, adding about 430,700 people.

Several simultaneous trends are rapidly diversifying our population. First, a growing share of babies born each year in Minnesota are either Hispanic and/or a race other than white— including 28 percent of births in 2014. Second, Minnesota’s population gains through migration are disproportionately from persons of color. Third, mortality rates primarily affect our non-Hispanic white Minnesotans because they represent a far larger share of older adults.

More precisely, since 2000, we have seen very strong growth in a few ethnic or cultural groups— Minnesotans who are Mexican, Asian Indian, Hmong, and Somali. The median age of Somali and Hmong residents is about 20 years old, and for Mexican residents, it’s age 23. We have extraordinary potential to positively shape the future of Minnesota by supporting our diverse young people. Our projections indicate that Asian, black, Hispanic, and multiracial Minnesotans will continue to grow most rapidly in the coming decades.

MC: It is helpful for cities to understand how these trends are affecting their own community. How can city officials find demographic data for their community?
SB: Our website (www.mn.gov/demography) has lots of commonly requested data and guideposts to finding more. Other excellent local resources include the Minnesota Compass website at www.mncompass.org (statewide) and the Metropolitan Council’s Data & Maps web page at www.metrocouncil.org/Data-and-Maps.aspx (for cities in the seven-county Twin Cities region). The U.S. Census Bureau offers a wealth of options, too. Its “QuickFacts” website (www.census.gov/quickfacts) and the “Community Facts” path on its American FactFinder website (http://factfinder.census.gov) are two easy avenues to find data about your community.

MC: The Census Bureau is likely preparing now for the 2020 census. How can cities be involved?
SB: I am so glad you asked that! We are beginning to ramp up our efforts to educate all residents about the importance of completing their 2020 census form, which they will be able to do online for the first time, if they wish. We will be doing lots of collaborative work with cities and other partners in the coming months and years. Subscribing to our Twitter feed and e-newsletter is a great way to stay apprised of these plans.

MC: The census underwent some changes after the year 2000, and then something called the American Community Survey (ACS) was added. Can you please explain what the American Community Survey is and whether or not that will continue?
SB: Many folks probably remember that up through 2000, the decennial census used to have two parts: the short form that everyone received with some basic questions about age, gender, race, and makeup of one’s household, and a longer form (survey) that only some people received. The survey portion is where we used to get the helpful data on various characteristics of Minnesotans: their occupations, educational attainment, country of birth, poverty status, etc.

That data was excellent, but by the end of each decade, it was very dated. For this reason, the Census Bureau broke the survey portion apart from the decennial census and began collecting that data continuously in 2005. It is now called the American Community Survey, or ACS, but it is still an essential part of the census. About 77,000 Minnesota households receive the ACS each year, and the resulting anonymous data is available annually in one-year or five-year averages, depending upon how large a community is. I can’t say enough about how valuable the data from this survey is to help cities respond to local needs.

Due to Census Bureau funding shortages, the ACS three-year estimates were discontinued. There have also been proposals to make the ACS voluntary, which would seriously degrade the data quality. Fortunately, this has never passed. I don’t think the ACS will ever disappear because the data is so important. Nonetheless, city leaders can help to ward off future threats by joining voices with others through Minnesotans for the American Survey, a group I am a part of. Learn more at http://minnesotansforacs.org.

Read the July-August 2016 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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