Thoughts on improved Minn. population trends

Will population trends cause this 2009 Minnesota State Fair crowd replicate itself on the streets of everyday Minnesota? Well, no.  (PHOTO: Amy West, Flickr CC)

For the first time in 15 years, more people moved to Minnesota from other parts of the U.S. than moved away. Added to immigration and a positive birth rate, Minnesota’s population is growing. Trends here are better than among our Midwestern neighbors.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that all of this is probably coming too late to save us from losing a Congressional seat in the 2021 reapportionment. Minnesota will likely end up with just seven Congressional districts and nine electoral votes starting in 2022.

Officials seem perplexed as to exactly why the migration trend reversed this year. This according to the Josh Verges story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Minnesota’s economy posts stronger numbers than its neighbors. It could be that a combination of available work and the state’s “Little Engine that Could” cultural scene stoked the change. Or it could just be a blip.

One thing’s certain. Minnesota needs the people. Our workforce demands skilled new workers to replace retiring baby boomers. So many, that economists worry that our state’s economy will stall for lack of human beings to do the work required of sustained growth.

Much of the migration centers around the Twin Cities metropolitan area, but there are still lessons for us here in Northern Minnesota. We need people, too. We should think of our future not just in terms of specific jobs, but in how we can attract people to live here.

People work for a living. But most don’t live to work. We want a region where people want to live. That is the goal each of us should endeavor to achieve in our civic involvement.

Meantime, there’s more coming in than going out. That’s what makes the world spin.


  1. The people coming in sign checks on the back. People going out sign ’em on the front.

  2. I get the (limited) congressional seat piece, but are we *sure* Minnesota needs more people? Seems to me there is a lot of talk amongst politicians about the benefits of increasing population (tax base among them), but very little talk among anyone about the costs of increasing population. That makes me nervous.

    I’m not seeing a huge workforce issue with Boomers retiring either, so mildly curious what you’re referring to there.

    • The issue of population depends on what you would like to see happen. Areas like the Range and most of Greater Minnesota are experiencing significant population decreases. While that does leave us all with more wide open spaces, it has a negative impact on the availability of economic and cultural resources, including medical care, retail businesses, entertainment and arts, educational resources, and so on. Some of that can be supplemented through the internet these days, but most people are not happy with the idea that they have to travel fifty miles to get obstetric care or dental care, one hundred miles for surgical treatment, or ride buses an hour each way to school, or never be able to actually try on clothes before ordering them, or have the only entertainment in town be a tavern. Low populations also impair the ability to build and repair infrastructure, ranging from roads and bridges to sewer and water, and put limits on the availability of educational choices and facilities for children and youth and public recreation sites for the general public.

      You are correct in that so far the retirement of the boomers has not seemed to generate lots of traditional jobs for younger people. The decrease in demand by boomers for many goods and services as they age and the increased use of automation in many jobs are part of that. We are going to see a lot of that in mining as time passes, with retiring boomer age miners being replaced by technology, not new hires.

      As far as the population of the Metro area, arguably there are plenty of people there, although there is always demand for people with certain skills. Minnesota is fortunate that, the Range aside, we were always less dependent on blue collar jobs that are disappearing either to automation or overseas. While we have seen the loss of the steel plant in Duluth, the Ford plant in St. Paul, and the refrigerator and rail car manufacturing in St. Cloud, and other spotty closings, we have not faced the kind of industrial collapse that has crushed the economies of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. We have tended, from the post-war era, to emphasize much higher tech industries, partly driven by the excellent higher ed and research programs the state has enjoyed but is now allowing to collapse. Whole industries exist in the Metro that were created whole out of U of M research. Throwing that away, along with failing to keep up our infrastructure, is tempting fate.

      For now, MN has one of the best economic and employment atmospheres in the country, as illustrated by the consistent high ratings by all credible business sources (sources that pay attention only to taxes being the exception) and the ongoing fact that Minnesotans continue to enjoy one of the highest median take home (after subtracting our supposedly crippling taxes) incomes in the country. In general, Minnesota and its economy continues to outperform all states except for the West Coast three and several Atlantic seaboard states from Virginia north. The ongoing national economic expansion that has occurred continuously since 2010 has benefitted almost all states, but Minnesota continues to show the sort of economic resiliency that will help us weather the inevitable downturn when it occurs, while other states have more fragility. We just need to be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg by celebrating upturns by cashing in our inheritance rather than continuing the public spending on education, infrastructure, and research that has driven the state ahead of its neighbors.

      I remain unconcerned about future overpopulation in Minnesota simply because, as we are experiencing now, it is too darned cold for most people. I suspect a lot of the momentary bulge we are seeing is due to the declines in neighboring states, especially North Dakota during the energy collapse, and will reverse itself once some areas of the economy recover from cyclic declines. This momentary uptick is, I suspect, temporary, and in the long run I am much more concerned about the atrophy and death of Greater MN communities than about significant population increases hurting our environment.

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