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Trends show worker challenges to continue

Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower presented a look at what the numbers indicate for the future in a Rosenmeier Center discussion at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.

Susan Brower, Minnesota Demographer, speaks on the results of the 2020 census Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, during the Rosenmeier Forum at Central Lakes College's Chalberg Theatre in Brainerd.
Susan Brower, Minnesota Demographer, speaks on the results of the 2020 census Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, during the Rosenmeier Forum at Central Lakes College's Chalberg Theatre in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Census data provides clear indications for Minnesota’s future, which includes a more diverse population, a growing number of aging baby boomers, and no end in sight for workforce challenges.

Those were some of the key points during a recent presentation by Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. Brower also pointed to strong growth in central Minnesota as she looked at the state overall and the lakes region in particular. Brower provided a deeper look at the 2020 Census during a Nov. 16 session of the Rosemeier Center for State and Local Government.

Brower’s own interest in demography came during graduate school when she took a class in demography and said she realized just how powerful the information can be in providing a clear view of the future for many things.

One topic affecting employers, employees and consumers is the worker shortage.

“I want to look at workforce and I want to look at workforce as it relates to population aging, because this is something that I can guarantee you will impact everyone in this room and probably already has,” Brower said.

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Susan Brower
Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower
Contributed

Looking at a bar graph of age groups, Brower pointed to longer lines that stood out from the rest. Members of the crowd knew immediately what they represented — baby boomers or those born between 1946 and 1964.

“You can see that the largest parts of the baby boom generation still has yet to move above that 65 year old age mark,” Brower said. Some baby boomers have already moved into their retirement years but others have yet to move above age 65. The oldest boomers reached 65 in 2011, putting the country 11 years into that transition of seeing workers reach retirement age.

“And if we think about kind of where the baby boomers are on this timeline, it tells us a lot about what we will experience in the future as communities and as a state,” Brower said.

“But the main takeaway is that we have a lot more retirements to come, we have another 10 years to come of people who will be moving up above that 65 year old age mark,” Brower said.

Boomers aging into their 80s will really hit communities and the state past 2025 or 2030 in terms of services —such as health care, long term care and other needs related to an aging population.

“But right now, where we are feeling the transition of the baby boomers retiring, is in the workforce,” Brower said. Looking at population numbers, Brower pointed to times in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s where the labor force increased. Posting a job meant multiple applicants.

A graph shows Minnesotans by age.
The oldest boomers reached 65 in 2011, putting the country 11 years into that transition of seeing workers reach retirement age.
Contributed / Minnesota State Demographer

“We are at a very different point,” Brower said. “Now, we are at a point where in 10 years of this state, we are likely to have the very same number of people that we have here today, in a working age and at 20 years and in 30 years, which means that some of the workforce shortages that we're experiencing right now, as employers, are not going to be resolved through growth like they have been in the past. There is no boomlet of 12 year olds who are going to age into the workforce, Brower said. There are not enough babies being born to make up for the numbers who are leaving the workforce to retire.

She noted the difficulty in hiring for the past five years and sees businesses looking to be creative in how they do things to move forward. Even immigration, while it might have helped a little in the past, isn’t likely to make the difference. Brower said the most recent data shows 5,000 people gained in the state because of international immigration, lower partially because of the pandemic. .

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“So what that means for employers is they're likely to see workforce shortages into the foreseeable future,” Brower said.

Graphic shows job openings and workers
“Right now in the state of Minnesota, there are 214,000 job openings,” Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower said. “And there are 93,000 people looking for work. There are so many more jobs than there are people right now.”
Contributed / Minnesota State Demographer

For the young people in the college auditorium, she said the good news is that if they a skill employers need, they will have a job very quickly.

“Right now in the state of Minnesota, there are 214,000 job openings,” Brower said. “And there are 93,000 people looking for work. There are so many more jobs than there are people right now.”

A question from the audience related to the frequently heard comment that workers are just sitting on the sideline out of laziness and not working. Brower said she hears that as well and thinks it stuck based on the early days of the pandemic when some people could choose to stay home because they had enough funds for the short term. Others retired early. There was talk of the Great Resignation as people left jobs to retire or to move to different jobs or different fields.

“So there were, you know, extended unemployment for a while, those things are no longer at play and we're still seeing these shortages,” Brower said. “When we look at the number of people in total in the state that are not in the workforce, but are of working age, it's about 600,000 people.”

She noted that number includes people with disabilities who can’t really work. It includes high school teenagers. It includes full-time college students. It includes people who retired early at 60 years old because they could financially or because of health issues.

Graphic shows map of Minnesota with population changes notes by county.
The average growth rate for Crow Wing County was about six-tenths of a percent over the last decade. The most recent estimate is almost three times the previous growth rate at 1.7%.
Contributed / Minnesota State Demographer

Minnesota’s growing population

Minnesota grew by 7.6%, a little above the national average. Not surprisingly, states with large growth tend to be warmer and in the nation’s southwest like Texas and Nevada or a spot like North Dakota, where the state’s small population saw a surge with the oil fields.

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“We're just about the national average in terms of growth, but it's really pretty hard for Midwestern states to grow,” Brower said. “We kind of are in the belt of states that tend not to grow quite as fast. We don't have as many people moving here. So we don't have that extra boost from migration that other southwestern states have. But you know, this 7.6% growth was just a hair above the national average. So generally, I'd say we do OK for ourselves with respect to growth.

“A lot of that has to do with the fact that we have large and growing metros in the state of Minnesota, that’s not true of all Midwestern states.”

Bar graphic illustrates age groups.
Contributed / Minnesota State Demographer

Minnesota’s growth was focused in the Twin Cities, with the seven-county metro area accounting for 78% of the state’s growth. Other rural counties are losing population, but Brower noted those losses are relatively small and the main driver of population in those areas comes from an aging population and deaths more than anything else.

“It wasn't like a mass exodus of folks,” Brower said. “It was more like a small kind of a trickle.”

Brower said growth isn’t a given as birth rates fall and fewer people move in. The census is undertaken every 10 years to take stock of everyone living here to make sure there is equal representation for the population in government, which correlates to funding resources as well. Brower noted just 26 people in the count of state residents allowed Minnesota to keep its eight congressional districts. Without those 26 people, congressional districts would have grown considerably in size and encompassed almost 100,000 more people as the state’s 5.7 million residents were divided into seven districts instead of eight. That also means a loss of a representative for the state in Congress. The count has been close in recent decades but never down to so few residents making the difference.

The census provides data for analysis to look at where things were, where they are and where they are likely going.

“So what we saw this decade is very, very strong growth in the Twin Cities metropolitan area but also up along the 1-94 corridor toward St. Cloud,” Brower said, noting that growth continues to the state’s western edge with the Minnesota side of the Moorhead and Fargo, North Dakota, area. Another growth spot was in southeastern Minnesota, around Rochester. And there was another notable growth pattern — in the central lakes region of the state and expanding northward. Through a presentation with highlighted maps, Brower pointed to the growth patterns over the last 10 years making the changes visible through color variations and showing the 87 Minnesota counties as circles, big to small as populations grew or decreased.

“I’d say in this area in Brainerd, in particular Baxter, you’ll see kind of large circles representing more growth, considerably stronger growth than many other areas in Greater Minnesota,” Brower said.

Graphic shows map of the state with growth defined at county level.
A colored map shows population losses and gains, with rural counties typically losing more people to aging and death and not making up those numbers with new residents.
Contributed / Minnesota State Demographer

Brower looked at changes from the 2010, 2000 and 2020 census data and noted a lot also happened since 2020 with the pandemic shifting where people lived and worked. Since the pandemic’s disruption, Brower said new data provides a sense of more growth in the lakes area. The average growth rate for Crow Wing County was about six-tenths of a percent over the last decade. The most recent estimate is almost three times the previous growth rate at 1.7%. Brower said everywhere she goes in Greater Minnesota, people tell here about an increase in population after the pandemic as people moved into lake homes or relocated from the metro to outstate.

“So we don't have a lot of evidence about the extent of that yet,” Brower said. “We don't have a lot of data that tells us exactly how much movement happened. But we do know, kind of just looking at the patterns here, that we're seeing slightly different patterns than we saw before 2010.”

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She touched on the recently redrawn political boundaries through redistricting following the census results. Other data explored the changing face of Minnesotans.

Minnesota’s growing diversity

“Another thing that we learned from the 2020 census is how our state is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse,” Brower said.

Most of the growth happened since 1990.

“And we've seen the most growth in the last year statewide among Black or African American populations in the state, followed by Hispanic or Latino and then Asian populations,” Brower said, adding the Black or African American population includes both U.S. and foreign born individuals, and it includes newer African immigrants.

“So there's kind of a boost to growth there from immigration in that particular group,” Brower said. “And jointly today, those groups total, just over 1.3 million.”

That number is just below a quarter of Minnesota's population. The state’s white non-Hispanic population began to decline by 51,000 fewer residents in 2020 than in 2010. So for the state’s population growth of adding 400,000 residents, 450,000 people of color were added through birth and immigration and about 50,000 white non-Hispanic residents were lost.

Map shows increasing diversity in a bar graph of ages.
“Another thing that we learned from the 2020 census is how our state is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse,” Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower said.<br/><br/><br/>
Contributed / Minnesota State Demographer

“This is largely white, non-Hispanic, older residents who are passing away rather than people who are migrating away, although there's some of that, too,” Brower said.

Locally, Crow Wing County grew by about 3,600 people. For a non-metro area, Brower said that is really quite strong growth.

“And here, unlike many areas of the state, the white non-Hispanic population continued to grow,” Brower said. “That didn't happen everywhere else. But most of the growth was attributable, again, to the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) population, the proportion of people of color in Crow Wing County is still much lower than the state overall.”

But Crow Wing County is becoming more diverse as the number of people of color increase in the county’s population, up from 4% in 2010 to 7% in 2020, or 4,871 people out of a total population of 66,123. The state’s overall percentage is about 24%.

“So kind of moving in the same direction, but still much less diverse than Minnesota overall,” Brower said.

A slide Brower presented on age showed a much more racially diverse young population of children.

“So it's kind of built into our demographics, that regardless, if we have no immigration moving forward, it's just those of us who are here now we'll be here in 50 years, we would still come out more diverse just because we are the way that we're structured is to have more diversity at the younger ages,” Brower said. “And there's some momentum to that.”

Graphic showing where people are coming from as they move to Minnesota.
Contributed / Minnesota State Demographer

Other highlights

  • People coming into Minnesota tend to come from neighboring states, Wisconsin or North Dakota top the list.
  • Top states for people leaving tend to be Arizona, California and Florida. 
  • People leaving Minnesota tend to be young, perhaps leaving for college or exploring the greener grass far from home. Few of those leaving are in their 60s, 70s, 80s compared to young people. Some of those young people come home after college graduation, but not all, creating a net loss over time. 
  • Even with all the challenges, politically and with the pandemic, Brower said the census number and in the U.S. in general were on target with some populations undercounted, particularly Hispanic or Latino residents, Black or African American and children younger than age 5 by about 5%. 
Graphic showing where people are going who leave Minnesota.
Contributed / Minnesota State Demographer

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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