The January 2017 report, Greater Minnesota: Refined & Revisited, presents an up-to-date portrait of Minnesota residents who live outside of urban areas, using data assembled from small geographic building blocks (more than 1,300 census tracts) to create a more nuanced understanding of these places.
The report details demographic and economic characteristics of Minnesota’s residents using a four-tiered definition of an area’s character—urban, large town, small town, and rural—based on both population size and proximity to other communities. About 73% of Minnesota’s population, numbering more than 3.9 million people, lives in an urban geography. Eleven percent, or nearly 609,000 people, lives in or nearby large towns with 10,000-49,999 residents. Another 7%, or nearly 390,000 people, lives in or nearby small towns with 2,500-9,999 residents, while 8% of Minnesota’s population, representing more than 434,000 people, lives in more remote rural areas.
A key challenge identified is that older residents are more common in non-urban areas. While 32% of urban Minnesotans are age 50 or above, that rate rises to 38% of large town residents, 41% of small town residents and 44% of rural Minnesotans—which heralds concern for the future workforce in our state’s smaller communities. In addition, more than 1 in 20 residents in rural and small town areas are 80+ presently, a rate that is anticipated to continue rising.
The report also found that urban workers’ median earnings are $10,000 or more higher than all other geography types—due in part to the industry mix. Rural, small town, and large town residents who work full-time are two or more times more likely to live in poverty than urban residents who do so.
Due to the importance of counties for service delivery, the report also unpacks population changes for four "county types" (based on their rural to urban character) and details both natural change (resulting from births and deaths), and net migration. These components of change collectively reveal which groups of counties are growing or declining in population, and why.
In the present decade (2010-2015), the counties that were entirely rural or a rural/town mix (as a group) have seen population losses, while counties that were entirely or partially urban (as a group) saw gains. Entirely urban counties, however, were the only county type growing as a result of migration (not due to births) and only due to international arrivals, ultimately.
However, not all individual counties fit the prevailing trend of their county group. Of note, while the 49 non-urban counties (as a group) declined in population this decade, 14 of those counties grew by 100 or more people. Furthermore, while that same group of non-urban counties saw migration losses since 2010, five of those counties (Douglas, Otter Tail, Itasca, Crow Wing and Hubbard) welcomed 100 or more new migrants, on net. Data are presented for all counties uniquely in the report Appendix.