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Hispanic and Suburban Populations Swell in Minnesota
By Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
March 28, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of The Faces of Minnesota

Minority populations, particularly Hispanics, are growing rapidly in Minnesota. 2000 census data shows the number of people identifying themselves as Hispanic more than doubled in the past 10 years. The census also shows growth in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but the growth was far outpaced by increases in the surrounding suburbs.

Tom Hofacker of Woodbury says this popular Washington County community offers good homes in quiet neighborhoods where kids can play safely.Listen to why he lives in the suburbs.
THERE ARE NOW MORE THAN 143,000 HISPANICS living in Minnesota. That's a 166-percent increase since the 1990 census in the broad ethnic category that includes Latinos of all races. Those numbers give official credence to what many people have already observed in places like Long Prairie, Albert Lea, the West side of St. Paul and Minneapolis' Whittier and Phillips neighborhoods.

Jorge Saavedra, the chief legal counsel for Centro Legal in Minneapolis, which provides civil legal services for Latinos. He says Mexicans, Central Americans and Puerto Ricans come to Minnesota for the same reasons anyone else does - opportunity, comparatively low housing prices, and abundant recreational resources. And Saavedra says, they're not all coming to take hourly jobs.

"People are coming in to establish businesses. They're bringing in capital and bringing in professional skills. We see attorneys and accountants and real estate professionals and educators who are coming to the Twin Cities area and to Minnesota because there's the perception there's this vibrant and growing economic force in the Latino community," he says.

But with change comes a challenge. Saavedra says Hispanics are not always welcomed in Minnesota.

"Minnesota is at a point in its history where it can decide whether Minnesota in the years to come will be a healthy, vibrant community that welcomes and includes immigrants, or a place that is segregated and divisive, where there is contention and conflict," Saavedra says.

Even though Hispanics show strong growth, the Census Bureau concedes many were missed. Gloria Eden, the Todd County Hispanic liaison in Long Prairie, says many people shied away from the census for fear the government was looking for undocumented workers.

"We've talked to many families and we've reassured them, but we can't force them to do something they are not comfortable with," says Eden.

The rise in the Hispanic population in the state only tells one of the stories of a more diversified Minnesota. The 2000 Census indicates that racially, nearly 11 percent of the state is non-white. The percentage can't be directly compared to racial data from the 1990 Census because of changes in how it's reported.

Last year, for the first time, the census offered people the opportunity to choose more than one race. Still, says state demographer Tom Gillaspy, the rise in African Americans and Asians is significant.

"Depending on whether you include the people who checked just one race or checked either one or more races, the black/African American population increased somewhere between 81 percent and 114 percent, and the Asian population increased by about 85 to 111 percent; so, fairly strong growth," according to Gillaspy.

By the same measure, the American Indian population in Minnesota increased up to 62 percent, depending on whether a person listed full or partial American Indian heritage.

The other big growth in Minnesota is among people living in suburbs. The state's two largest cities did grow for the first time in years, but that growth is eclipsed by the increases in the dozen counties surrounding them.

See census details of population by race and geographic location.

Population by Race

Population by Race Combinations

Population by Race Alone

Shifts in Population

Cities and Counties by Race

Total Populations -Cities and Counties
Watching his kids play outside his Woodbury home, Tom Hofacker says this popular Washington County community offers good homes in quiet neighborhoods where kids can play safely.

"Kids in the neighborhood for my two kids to play with and be close to. You know, a quiet neighborhood, and quiet place to live. Bigger lot, maybe a little more peace and quiet. I think cul de sacs are really cool to have. That's one of the neatest things," says Hofacker.

Among the 15 most populous counties, Scott County - south of Minneapolis - has the highest percentage of growth at almost 55 percent for a total population of more than 89,000.

Sherburne County - northwest of the Twin Cities - is close behind with nearly 54 percent. Carver County is next with 46.5-percent growth. Washington - east of St. Paul - grew by 38 percent and pushed up over 200,000 residents for the first time.

The census data also changes the ranking of Minnesota's cities in terms of population. The state's total population is a little over 4.9 million, an increase of more than 500,000 people since 1990.

Minneapolis, the most populous city, grew by 3.9 percent. Number two is St. Paul, which grew 5.5 percent. Duluth gained a mere 1.7 percent, but managed to move into the third-largest-city spot. Rochester moves into a close fourth after a 21.3-percent growth, to nearly 86,000 residents.

Bloomington is the only one of the 15 largest cities to lose residents. Since 1990, Bloomington - the home of the Mall of America - lost 1.3 percent of its population and drops from the third-largest to the fifth-largest city.

Still Duluth, Rochester and Bloomington are all within a spread of 1,800 people. Rochester-Olmsted County Planner Larry Klemenhagen says what the numbers don't show is Rochester's growth since the census numbers were recorded last year.

"We've also seen, for example, building permits for 1,644 new housing units started in the year 2000. We're assuming this growth will continue well beyond just what the figures are in 2000," according to Klemenhagen.

In addition, Rochester has annexed more than 400 homes since April last year.

The census data are the first in a long and progressively detailed series. It's designed for legislators to refer to as they redraw voting district boundaries.