Minnesota's changing: Here are key takeaways from new Census data

State Fair crowds
Thousands packed the Minnesota State Fair Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Jim Mone | AP File

When the U.S. Census Bureau released its five-year block of data this week, it confirmed several theories about Minnesota's population trends: We're getting older, we're becoming slightly more diverse, but we're slow to adapt to both of those changes.

With a median age of 37.7, Minnesota's population continues to grey. While some communities across the state skew younger, that's due in part to immigration because young populations in Minnesota are more diverse than older ones.

The numbers also confirm the state's post-recession economic recovery has been slow for many of its residents.

Here's some of what we learned from this week's release of the American Community Survey's 5-year estimates:

Minnesota is getting older every year

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The median age of Minnesotans is going up: It's now 37.7 years, about seven months older than the median age of state residents in the Census' previous reporting in 2010.

Between the Census' 2006-2010 report and its 2011-2015 report, the number of residents 65 or older grew from 12.6 percent of the state's population to 13.9 percent. Just under a quarter of households in the state now include someone over 65.

"We really haven't experienced a demographic change of this magnitude for some time," said Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower. "It will have impact on labor force, it will have impact on public budgets and a number of different domains of life."

Cities in rural Minnesota are finding special challenges with simple things like providing transportation or housing for older residents, said Rachel Walker, policy analyst for the League of Minnesota Cities.

"Things like signage, things like sidewalks, accessibility," Walker said. "The physical landscape of places, so people can move around, walk around safety is becoming more of an issue."

Many of the state's older residents live in rural counties like Big Stone, Traverse, Cook, Lake and Cass, according to the data from 2011-2015. More young people are likely to be found in the Twin Cities, or in places like Nobles and Beltrami counties, which have higher rates of immigration than other rural parts of the state.

The Census data show that part of what's keeping the state from aging more rapidly is an influx of young immigrants, and higher birth rates among immigrant groups.

"As a population ages, it often slows the growth of the labor force, and the issue is how does a community respond to that need?" Brower said. "We've seen an influx of immigrants that have moved primarily to fill the jobs that employers had."

Minnesota's becoming more diverse (but it's still pretty white)

Like the United States as a whole, Minnesota is growing more racially diverse. But the state is still one of the whitest in the country, with non-Hispanic whites making up 81.7 percent of the population.

Still, the proportion of Minnesota's population made up of black, Asian or biracial residents has increased in the last decade. Those gains make up for some of the population that's being lost among whites, whose birth rates are lower than those groups — and who aren't making up for the natural population losses.

The Minnesota of the future will be even more diverse. While Latinos account for just 5 percent of the state's population, they account for 8.4 percent of those under the age of 18, according to the latest data. Black or African-American residents make up 7.9 percent of those under 18. That will mean that the state's population is likely to get even more diverse as those young people grow up and have their own families.

The foreign-born population in the state rose slightly to 418,676, and almost half of those residents are now naturalized citizens. While immigration from Europe and other parts of North America has decreased, immigration from Asia and Africa has increased slightly.

Disparities between whites and others continue

Minnesota's unemployment rate is among the best in the country, but the real dollars that many Minnesotans took home in the last five years is still lower than it was a few years before.

Wages for whites in the state — at $36,008 annually — were the highest in the recent data for any racial or ethnic group. When inflation is factored in, that's an increase of about $118 each year between the 2010 and 2015 numbers.

But economic disparities between whites and others have only worsened since the 2008 recession. African-Americans, American Indians, Latinos and Asians all made less money when inflation was factored in between the 2010 and 2015 numbers. Minnesotans in all those groups are also bringing home a lower median income than their counterparts nationwide.

Brower said she's concerned about these numbers, but added that they might not take into account recent income gains that other data have captured.

"The recovery was slow and wages stayed pretty steady toward that time period," Brower said. "It's just been toward the end, more recently, that we've seen an increase."

Minnesotans go to college

The state is seeing big gains in education, with the number of residents who have associate's, bachelor's or graduate degrees rising. The portion of people in the state who have at least a high school diploma rose to 92.4 percent. By 2015, more than a third of state residents had earned at least a bachelor's degree.

Some of those gains in education could be due to students who opted to finish their schooling or work toward an advanced degree during the recession, Brower said.

Among Minnesotans between the ages of 18 and 24, more have attained some form of higher education or a bachelor's degree than they did just a few years ago.

Another factor that might have played a role in the growing rates of advanced degrees could be an influx of college graduates moving into the state, attracted by Minnesota's stronger economy, said Alexandra Djurovich, senior data analyst for the state's Office of Higher Education.

"We have a large metropolitan area within our state, which also is very diverse economically," Djurovich said. "We're not reliant on certain industries, so we tend to weather economic trends that are in other states."

The 5-year American Community Survey release contains much more detail than the yearly releases from U.S Census Bureau, Brower said. In the coming days and weeks, her office will be digging into the data in hopes of finding out more about the long-term impact the recession may have had on cities and counties across the state.