Population trends here to stay

FAIRMONT – Post-recession growth, an aging population and more racial diversity are the three major demographic trends that affect Minnesota’s population today and will set the trend for decades to come, according to state demographer Susan Brower.

Brower gave a presentation Tuesday afternoon at the Martin County Courthouse, sponsored by Martin County’s planning and zoning commission.

“We are positioned to be competitive,” Brower said of the state. “That’s the good news. We are 10th in the nation for the number of people with bachelor’s degrees, we have a high GDP, and we’re 12th highest for median household income.”

During her presentation, Brower concentrated on three key issues, and also presented what the 2010 census numbers show for Martin County and what is predicted in the next 20 years.

One point she made is that post-recession growth has been more slow and steady statewide, which reflects a national trend.

“The counties surrounding the metro area saw a great expansion from 2000-2010,” Brower said. “Loss is seen in the outer areas … But since the recession, the growth has stopped, the birth rate has slowed. Now the post-growth is even throughout the state; all the areas are growing at the same rate.”

But the trends for the next decade still show more growth to expand from the metro area, along with more populated areas such as Mankato, St. Cloud and Rochester.

Another big factor in the upcoming decades is the baby boom generation reaching retirement and old age. In 2002, there was an increase of 91,000 people ages 65 and older. By 2010, that increase was 285,000 people, and will peak at about 335,000 people in the year 2020.

“The majority of households are now people that are 55 and over who are married without children at home, or people 55 and over who are living alone,” Brower said.

In Martin County, 1 of every 5 people is over the age of 55. There are 22 counties with the 1 in 5 demographic, with that rising to 48 counties in 2020 and 69 counties in Minnesota by 2030.

“By the year 2020, there will be more adults age 65 or older than there will be school-age children,” Brower said. “We will begin to see a problem as we will continue to try to pay for schools along with promises we’ve made to these older generations.”

With the big mass of retirement, and no other big population bumps coming to replace the baby boom, Brower also said labor growth will slow.

“It’s going to be more important to have well-skilled workers,” she said.

Enter the third key in the demographic change, a more diverse population.

“About 17 percent of the population is a person of color, and in the Twin Cities, that is one in four people,” Brower said. “However, we still lag behind the national average where about a third of the population is a person of color.”

Most of the cultural diversity is seen in the Twin Cities area, but there are some pockets of Latino growth in the state, such as Nobles and Watonwan counties, which show that 20 percent of the population identifies itself as Latino.

“We have a big refugee population too, starting with the Vietnamese in the 1970s, the Hmong in the 1980s,” Brower said. “We’ve also seen a large increase from Africa, from counties such as Somalia and Ethiopia … From Asia, we’re seeing a lot of Indians, here with visas to work. About 85 percent of them have bachelor’s degrees.”

But there is a concern about the children in these groups.

“There is an achievement gap,” Brower said. “Only about 40 percent of Hispanics, blacks and American Indians are graduating from high school on time. Only 80 percent of white students are graduating from high school on time. This is also a trend across the U.S. … It is abysmally low for any group.”

With the labor force shrinking, more high-skills training needed and college costs rocketing, it paints a bleak picture for today’s youth.

“In 1973, only 28 percent of jobs needed post-secondary education,” Brower said. “By 2018, about 68 percent of jobs will require a post-secondary education. This is a big concern with the labor force slowing.”

Martin County, meanwhile, continues on a slow decline. Census numbers show that the county’s population has been in decline since 1980, and there has been a decline in median income from $46,156 in 2000 to $40,389.

A breakdown in age demographics show an interesting trend in Martin County. While there is a small population for ages 20-24 years, there is a large population for ages 30-34. Brower attributed the trend to “reverse migration.”

“You see the kids go off to college and get jobs someplace else,” Brower said. “But when they start having kids of their own, they move back to be closer to their families, getting help from the grandparents.”

“They also remember their childhood here, and want that for their children,” added Leeann Zarling, Fairmont’s community development coordinator, who was attending the presentation.

While Martin County already has a large 65-and-older population, the aging boom will have an effect on society for the next few decades.

“The aging boom will be a big change, for all of us,” Brower said. “It’s going to be really concentrated in this and the next decade.”