Agency says three-fourths of Minnesotans live in urban areas

Published 3:25 pm Saturday, January 28, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — Nearly three-fourths of Minnesota residents live in urban areas, and the population in the rest of the state is getting older, the State Demographic Center says in a report that seeks to create a more nuanced understanding of Minnesota outside the Twin Cities area.

The findings raise concerns for the future workforce in smaller communities and highlight the need for planning for delivering health care and other services to their residents, the report says. The authors of the report, which was released Thursday, said they hope that lawmakers and local leaders will use it to better inform their decisions.

To get a better understanding of the demographic and economic characteristics of what’s commonly called Greater Minnesota — the part of the state outside the seven-county Twin Cities area — the report came up with a four-tiered definition of an area’s character, based on population and proximity to other communities.

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By that reckoning, 73 percent of Minnesota’s population (3.9 million people) lives in “urban” areas, including suburbs and exurbs; 11 percent (609,000 lives in or near “large towns” of 10,000-49,999 residents; 7 percent (390,000) lives in or near “small towns” of 2,500-9,999 residents; and 8 percent (434,000) lives in more remote “rural” areas.

Besides the Twin Cities area, communities that were counted as urban included Duluth, Rochester, St. Cloud, Mankato and Moorhead, and East Grand Forks. Large towns included Albert Lea, Austin, Bemidji, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Hibbing, Marshall, Owatonna, Virginia, Willmar, and Worthington.

One challenge for policymakers is that smaller communities have a greater percentage of older residents. Thirty-two percent of residents in urban areas are 50 or order. The rate is 38 percent in large towns, 41 percent for small towns and 44 percent for rural residents. More than 5 percent of residents in rural and small-town areas are 80 or older — and that percentage is rising.

“This report gives us a sense of the scope of older adults living in remote areas with challenges to delivering health and other services,” State Demographer Susan Brower said in a statement accompanying the report.

The 68-page report also found that rural, small-town and large-town residents who work full time are at least twice as likely to live in poverty as urban residents. Urban workers’ median earnings are $10,000 or more higher than those living elsewhere in the state, it said.

Given that counties are major service providers to the elderly and poor, the report detailed where the population is growing and where it’s shrinking.

Minnesota’s 14 “entirely rural” counties, as a group, have lost population since 2010, which the report said will mean even more acute labor shortages. Entirely or partially urban counties grew as a group, the report said, but the 13 “entirely urban” counties are growing only because of international migration.

Counties across the state will have to become more reliant on migration if they’re going to grow, Brower said.