Demographer: Aging population impacting us all

BLUE EARTH – The population is getting older and rural counties like Faribault County have been shrinking, said Susan Brower, state demographer, but it’s not all bad news.

Brower spoke at a meeting for elected officials and others in government and the school system Thursday at the Public Safety Building in Blue Earth.

Her office tracks the state population to estimate the funding formula and has noticed the aging of the population is beginning to affect Minnesota and the nation.

“The aging population is fundamental to who we are and where we’re going in the future,” Brower said.

The number of older adults in the state will increase substantially over the next 20 years, she said, from 91,000 in pre-2000, to an additional 285,000 in the 2010s, and a projected 335,000 additional older adults in the 2020s.

“The Baby Boomers are just starting to turn 65,” Brower said.

“For the first time in Minnesota history, there will be more people 65-plus than school-age children by 2020,” she said. “That potentially is why this aging trend can affect our school age children.”

Now, a large portion of the state budget is for kindergarten through grade 12 education. In the future, more might have to be set aside for the aging population as it grows.

“It’s going to create some budget issues. [We’re] going to have a shift in demand for budget services and the services they demand,” Brower said. “From 2008, if the state health care costs continue their current trend, state spending on other services can’t grow.”

With an aging population, more people will be retiring.

“The labor force growth is projected to slow,” Brower said. “It’s already begun to slow, that will continue in the future.”

That’s because the large aging population leaving the workforce will not be replaced with an equal number of workers, since there are fewer people in the younger generations.

Another trend is the difference in growth around the state.

From 2000-2010, Faribault, Martin and Watonwan counties faced a loss of growth, while the Twin Cities grew by 25 percent.

“Faribault County declined by 10 percent in that decade,” Brower said.

“Now, we’re seeing most of the state growing at roughly the same percentage. We’re looking at this trend to see if it will keep going,” she said.

“One of the primary reasons this is happening is the out-migration of the younger generation,” Brower said.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs drive a lot of migration,” she said, which explains the growth of areas like Mankato and Albert Lea.

Another trend is the growth of minorities in the state.

Minnesota and the Twin Cities are becoming more diverse, Brower said,

“Now, 17 percent of Minnesotans are people of color,” she said, compared to 36 percent in the United States. “We’re becoming more diverse at the same rate, but we’re much more white.”

Most of the “white” part of the state is that older population, while the younger generations have more ethnic diversity, Brower said, especially those in the late 20s, when people tend to have children.

Immigration, or people moving into the state, is driving the diversity.

In 1920, one in five people was foreign-born.

“Immigrants are coming from all over the globe,” Brower said.

In 1950, most came from Europe. Now, Europeans total a little more than 10 percent of those coming here.

“Migration – from other states and other countries – will become a main driver of our growth,” Brower said. “Births is how we’re growing now. We’ll have to rely on immigration a lot more.”

“It’s hard to encourage our kids to come back,” said Michele Stindtman of Faribault County Soil and Water Conservation District. “How do you tell them it’s OK to come back? How do we let our kids know it’s OK to go to a trade school and come back? What can we be doing as a county to help them come back?”

“There is a reverse migration,” Brower said. “Around age 30, they want to move back to the community they know. You have a lot to offer with community safety. My kids don’t ride their bikes to the park.”

“Most of our industries are looking for people,” said Kathy Bailey, Blue Earth city administrator. “Housing is reasonably priced. We have a good quality of life.”

Technology will help as well.

“Expansion of broadband Internet will be important to let people stay in their communities and do their jobs,” Brower said. “Increasingly, we can do our work from anywhere. Think about it as a source of economic development, opening up an area of work.”

The future does look bright, in Brower’s opinion.

“I have a lot of hope that going forward, we will crack this nut,” she said. “But the world will not react the same way. It’s a new game out there.”

For more information, visit demography.state.mn.us and go to “Contact us” for the helpline or e-mail Brower at susan.brower@state.mn.us