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New Census data reveals sting of Great Recession in Minnesota

Minnesota has more than twice as many vacant homes as it had a decade earlier, the birth rate is slowing and more young adults may be looking out of state for jobs and higher education.

The foreclosures and related disruptions continue even now, more than a year after census day.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The foreclosures and related disruptions continue even now, more than a year after census day.

New hints of the Great Recession’s lingering impact on Minnesota come from a detailed profile the U.S. Census Bureau released today.

In 2010, the state had more than twice as many vacant homes as it had a decade earlier. After subtracting out the seasonal and recreational homes, nearly 130,000 homes stood vacant on April 1 last year, up from 65,000 in 2000.

Last year’s vacancies added up to more than 5 percent of the total housing units in the state.

The counties most severely hit by the collapse of the housing bubble and subsequent waves of foreclosures were in the outer rings of the Twin Cities metro area — in places like Chisago, Wright, Carver and Scott counties.

If anything, the census may be understating the vacancies and other indicators of housing turnovers in those areas. The foreclosures and related disruptions continue even now, more than a year after census day.

And the full tally of what has happened to the people who lost their homes has yet to be taken.

Obviously some former homeowners became renters, and some former owner-occupied homes became rental properties. The number of renter-occupied homes jumped by 17 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the Census data.  

Fewer tots and 20-somethings
The ranks of kids under age 5 increased slightly during the decade, but not nearly as much as was expected by the experts who count young heads in order to anticipate the needs for schools and various children’s services.

“The recession knocked down births a bit,” said State Demographer Tom Gillaspy.

Another change that calls for further study came in the numbers of 20 to 24 year olds. Even while the overall population grew, the state ended the decade with a loss of about 30,000 in that age group.

The drop signals that more young adults may be looking out of state for higher education, Gillaspy said.

But the steep decline in entry-level manufacturing and construction jobs may also have sent some seeking opportunities elsewhere. During the depths of the recession, I interviewed young workers who were heading for North Dakota’s booming energy patch and other rare bright spots in the nation’s overall economic picture.

More detail
This latest census report adds detail to the demographic information that came out in March. The Census Bureau is releasing in-depth profiles for 13 states each week. Comparisons with Minnesota’s neighboring states in the Upper Midwest and with the nation as a whole won’t be available until the end of May when all of the profiles have been made public.

Meanwhile, though, Minnesotans can check out a wealth of new information about their neighborhoods, communities, counties and the state as a whole.

These new profiles, available at the Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder website provide the most in-depth report so far on how we stack up in terms of housing, age, sex and race and ethnicity. An interactive map gives basic data and also comparisons within the states released so far.

Among other revelations, the new report shows that Minnesota continued a decades-old decline in traditional families headed by a husband and wife. Married couples accounted for 50.8 percent of all Minnesota households last year, down from 53.7 percent in 2000.

That decline does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the institution of marriage is crumbling. To be sure, more young couples are opting to live together without tying the knot, continuing a longstanding trend.

And more young people stay single until they are older. The new census report shows a hefty jump during the past decade in the number of Minnesotans who live alone — more than 584,000 in 2010.

Mature Minnesota
That husband-wife decline may be partly explained by the fact that Minnesota grew considerably older during the decade. Gillaspy tactfully calls it “more mature.”

The number of households with individuals over age 65 also jumped during the decade. And the sad reality is that death often splits older married couples, leaving one of the partners living alone.

Minnesota’s median age last April was 37.4, up from 35.4 in 2000.

The state’s oldest counties tend to fit into two categories.

One is the counties that are retiree-magnets, places where people realize their dreams of spending their retirement years on a lake shore or in the scenic north woods. For that reason, Aitkin County near Mille Lacs Lake is the oldest in the state (median age 51.7). Next is Cook County (49.8) which sits between Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

In the second category, people have been moving away from rural areas. And typically those who leave are young high school graduates and young families.

“Younger people tend to move, and older people tend not to,” Gillaspy said.

The most prominent of these counties are along the state’s western border. In Lac qui Parle County, for example, the median age was 48.9.

In most of the Twin Cities metro counties, the median age was about 35.

Blue Earth County scored the youngest age, 29.8, followed closely by Clay and Winona counties.

Heading for retirement
The Minnesotans with the most profound potential impact on the state’s economy and social fabric are those who were counted between the ages of 45 and 64 in the 2010 Census.

These are the people who are poised to retire over the next two decades, taking their skills from the marketplace and creating more needs for health care, senior housing and related services.

More than 1.4 million Minnesotans — a whopping 27 percent of the state’s residents — fall into that age group.

And that’s not counting nearly 700,000 Minnesotans who already are 65 and older.

It is those near-retirees who have prompted Gillaspy and others to warn that Minnesota must prepare for impending retirements and the needs of an older population.

This census release confirms what they have been saying for years: Minnesota needs to train a new generation of workers if it hopes to remain prosperous and productive in the future.

Sharon Schmickle writes about national and foreign affairs and science. She can be reached at sschmickle [at] minnpost [dot] com.