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Population to grow faster than expected
Minnesota's population is expected to grow to more than 6 million by the year 2030, an increase of 27 percent. That estimate is included in a report released Wednesday by the Minnesota Planning Department's demographic center. Researchers say the growth will exceed earlier projections because Minnesota's economy and in-migration numbers in the 1990s were stronger than they expected. The department says the state will experience sharp growing pains if steps aren't taken to keep up with the growth.

The population projections coincide with trends revealed by 2000 census data. The new state study says the majority of all growth will occur in the Twin Cities metro area and immediately around it. Scott, Sherburne and Carver counties are projected to grow the fastest.

State Planning Director Dean Barkley says the state's population is expected to increase by 500,000 people, to 5.4 million, in the next 10 years alone. By 2030, the number is expected to top 6.2 million. Barkley says the report reinforces the need to address transportation issues.

"We have to start doing something to start relieving the ... number one problem of ... people living in the metro area, transportation and congestion, which is only going to get worse," Barkley says. "Hopefully next year -- or soon -- the Legislature and the governor's office will get a handle on what I think has been an historic 20-year failure of state policymakers, to not deal with the transportation issues in this state."

The state's population is also projected to age significantly. The median age is expected to increase from 35 years in 2000 to 40 years in 2030. By 2030, the fastest-growing age group will be people in their 60s. Barkley says aging baby boomers will need more health care.

"We're having a hard time paying for our health care now. What's going to happen in 10 years, when we start going to the doctor more and more and utilizing the system, which right now is going bankrupt?" says Barkley. "I think that's a huge public policy issue that's been ignored by the feds when it comes to Social Security and Medicare. The state has a role in it also, with its Minnesota Care and other health care provisions."

State research analyst Martha McMurry says Minnesota's population growth is being driven more by a natural increase than by in-migration from other states and countries. She says a natural increase means more people are being born than are dying. However, McMurry says that doesn't necessarily mean the state's birth rate will increase.

"We're projecting, for example, that fertility rates won't change. We project an increase in births, but that's because we have a larger population. We're projecting we'll have more women, so therefore we'll have more babies. But the birth rate isn't going to change according to our forecast," says McMurry.

As the state's population increases, so does the demand for affordable housing. A report released last year by the Family Housing Fund estimated that more than 25,000 new affordable rental units, and 7,000 affordable ownership homes, will be needed in the metropolitan area. An affordable housing task force made up of metro-area mayors has released a report saying they are making progress, but are still falling short of their goals.

Metropolitan Council Chair Ted Mondale says the health of the state's economy depends on providing places for working Minnesotans to live.

"Businesses will have reason to grow here because they'll be able to have the housing for their employees. If we don't, that will bring about variations of increasing the cost of housing. We'll have people driving further and having congestion impacts," says Mondale.

State Planning Director Dean Barkley says population increases could also threaten areas containing lakes and forests, because more retirees will move to those areas. He says local and state officials should look for ways to entice people to move to counties in western and southwestern Minnesota, which are losing residents.

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