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Minnesota Growing Older, More Diverse
By Art Hughes
Minnesota Public Radio
May 23, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of The Faces of Minnesota
Click for audio RealAudio

Minnesota's population is older than it was 10 years ago, according to newly-released U.S. census figures. The data also reveal Minnesotans are much more likely to own their homes than residents in the rest of the nation. In addition, the census found the dramatic increase in the state's Hispanic population is made up largely of people of Mexican heritage.

Valeeng Cha is director of the Hmong National Organization, and led a drive to increase the census response in the Hmong community. He believes the census, which puts the Hmong population in Minnesota at roughly 68,000, undercounted the Hmong population.
Listen to his comments. (MPR Photo/Melanie Sommer)
A MINNESOTAN WHO IS NOW THE MEDIAN AGE, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau, would have been born the same year the first Star Trek episode was broadcast on TV. It was the first year Medicare began and the FDA approved "The Pill" for human consumption. While that may not seem like that long ago, it represents a gradual aging trend in this state.

The median age is the number demographers and others use as a barometer of the overall population's age. It means exactly half are above and half below. Census figures show the median age in Minnesota bumped up three years to 35.4 since 1990. That's slightly higher than the national median age of 35.3. Minnesota State Demographer Tom Gillaspy says the three-year rise reflects a hefty change.

"It's basically a third of a year every year over a 10-year period, and that really is a substantial amount for this median," says Gillaspy. "The median is a number that doesn't like to change a lot. It tends to be a very stable number."

Gillaspy says the rise in median age is somewhat offset by in-migration. More people are moving into the state than moving out, and new residents tend to be younger. He says the main cause of the increase is the large number of "baby boomers" born after World War II, and the fact that fewer children have been born since to balance them out.

"We are not an old society. We're not an elderly society. We're a middle-aging society. We're seeing the majority of our population moving out of their childbearing years into their 40s and 50s," says Gillaspy.

Of the state's five million residents, 44 percent are between the ages of 25 and 54. The slowest growth of any age group is among those reaching retirement age. The number of people in the 65 to 74 year age group grew by only 1,300 people in 10 years. The percentage of people over 65 actually declined slightly during that time, a marker of the smaller birth rate during the years of the Great Depression. LaRhae Knatterud with the Minnesota Department of Human Services' Aging Initiative says the changes follow an aging population.

"We see a lot of changes that are beginning to occur just naturally because of the aging of the society - as communities, and this is particularly true in some of the rural parts of Minnesota," says Knatterud. "We're going to have many more older people than younger people. And that has implications for the number of people you have to work at jobs, to be involved in community activities, that require help from the families because there are going to be fewer family members around."

The number of those over 85 has increased by some 17,000 people. Knatterud says that increase is actually encouraging, since studies not related to the census indicate older Americans are healthier and disability rates are decreasing.

"It may be that as these disability rates have gone down - rather than having a huge need for health and long-term care - we may find the population staying healthy longer. Therefore, the need for long-term care may be a short period of time at the end of someone's life," says Knatterud.

Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Council, is concerned about the low vacancy rates for housing in Minnesota. He told MPR's Morning Edition host, Cathy Wurzer, there is good news and bad news in the numbers.
Listen to the interview.
(Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Council)
In addition to being older, Minnesota is less white than 10 years ago. In this latest census release, just over 89 percent of Minnesotans identify themselves as white, compared to more than 94 percent 10 years ago. The U.S. census finds Hispanics are the fastest growing minority since 1990. The data show the majority of the 145,000 residents identifying themselves as Hispanic are of Mexican descent.

Theresa Ortiz works at the Center of the Americas in Minneapolis. She moved here in the '80s, when Minnesota's Latino residents were largely sons and daughters of migrant workers concentrated on St. Paul's west side. She spent the past decade back in Mexico and Central America, and returned to Minnesota less than a year ago. She says today's Latino community is much more vibrant than the one she left.

"I remember one time riding the bus and feeling very conscious that I was the only person with brown eyes," says Ortiz. "I'm not talking about black hair, I'm talking about brown eyes. Everybody else had blue eyes. And now blue-eyed people are the minority if you ride the bus."

Ortiz says while Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and others who share the Spanish language have vast cultural differences among them, Latino communities in Minnesota tend to overlap and are relatively harmonious. The 2000 Census counts 6,600 Puerto Ricans and 2,500 Cubans. The "other" category comprises a significant portion - 38,000 - of those identifying themselves as Hispanic.

The state's most populous minority continues to be African Americans which comprise 3.5 percent of the total population - up from 2.2 percent in 1990. Among the Asian population, Vietnamese residents now outnumber Chinese in Minnesota. Asian Indians also grew substantially. The growth of Japanese, Korean and Filipino populations were slower. The largest population of Asians, however - nearly 68,000 - is hidden in the category known as "other Asians" on the census form.

There are 42 separate Asian nationalities in Minnesota, but Valeeng Cha says it's understood the other Asian category comprises mostly Hmong immigrants. Cha is director of the Hmong National Organization in St. Paul, and he headed an effort encouraging southeast Asians to respond to the census. He says the numbers are lower than what he expected.

"As with most communities of color, we feel this is still an undercount," says Cha. "Because the 60,000 - 70,000 range is where we thought we were at five or 10 years ago. We feel the number should be around 80,000 to 90,000 people living here locally in the Twin Cities."

Cha blames the undercount on language and cultural obstacles to filling out the census forms. He says the 2000 census is an important marker for Minnesota's Hmong population.

"First and foremost, we just want an accurate representation of how many people we have here - Hmong people. And second, I think numbers have a lot of leverage. If we can demonstrate we are 80,000 or 90,000 strong here locally, I think we would have a lot of political voice and a lot of different things we have been lacking traditionally," says Cha.

By and large, Minnesota's census figures mirror those on a national level. But one area in which Minnesota residents differentiate themselves is with home ownership. Three-quarters of all Minnesotans own their homes, compared to two-thirds nationwide. The vacancy rate for homeownership - already a measly 1.5 percent 10 years ago, has now dropped below 1 percent.

Homeownership vacancy rates are the lowest in the Twin Cities metro area. Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Anoka counties all have owner-occupancy vacancy rates of a 0.5 percent. Rental rates are slightly higher. Statewide, the rental vacancy rate is 4 percent.

The census data released this week is from questions asked of all census participants, whether they filled out the long or short forms. The U.S. Cenus Bureau will begin releasing even more detailed racial and housing information this summer.