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Veterans in the Twin Cities Metro

by Tim O'Neill
timothy.oneill@state.mn.us
December 2019

In appreciation to those who have served or are currently serving, this month’s Employment Review Spotlight will highlight veterans in the Seven-County Metro Area.

The Big Picture

On December 19 the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2018 ACS 5-Year estimates. These estimates allow users to analyze numerous population and demographic topics down to the county, census tract, and block level for geography. As such, we can take a look at veteran status for the Seven-County Metro Area through the lens of population estimates, period of service, age, gender, race and ethnicity, labor force statistics, poverty status, disability status, and more. We can also see how these various measurements have changed over time. Essentially, we can answer that essential question of how are veterans doing in the Metro Area.

A “veteran” in this analysis refers to a person 18 years of age and older who has served for even a short time, but is no longer serving on active duty in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. For the ACS, people who served in the National Guard or military Reserves are classified as veterans only if they were ever called or ordered to active duty, not counting the 4-6 months for initial training or yearly summer camps.

According to the latest ACS estimates, there were nearly 145,000 veterans living in the Seven-County Metro Area in 2018. As such, just under half (46.7 percent) of Minnesota’s veterans reside in the Metro Area. Broken down by the region’s seven counties, nearly two-in-five veterans reside in Hennepin County, with more than 20,000 veterans residing in Dakota, Ramsey, and Anoka counties. Anoka, Dakota, and Washington counties each had more than 7 percent of their respective total populations 18 years and older being veterans (see Table 1).

Table 1. Veteran Counts in the Metro Area

Area

Number of Veterans

Share of Area’s
Total Population,
18 Years+

Share of Metro Area’s Veteran Population

Hennepin County

54,750

5.7%

37.8%

Dakota County

23,229

7.4%

16.0%

Ramsey County

22,891

5.5%

15.8%

Anoka County

20,062

7.6%

13.8%

Washington County

13,654

7.2%

9.4%

Scott County

5,844

5.7%

4.0%

Carver County

4,528

6.2%

3.1%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates


Broken down by period of service, the largest share of the Metro Area’s veterans served during the Vietnam Era. A nearly identical share of the region’s veterans served during the Gulf War between 08/1990 and 08/2001 as those who have served since 09/2001. About one-in-ten of the region’s veterans served during the Korean War. Just over 8,000 veterans in the Metro Area served during World War II (see Table 2).

Table 2. Veterans by Period of Service, 2018

Subject

Minnesota

Metro Area

2013 – 2018 Metro Area ACS Trends

Numeric

Percent

Veteran Population 18 Years and Over

310,097

144,958

-27,234

-15.8%

Gulf War (9/2001 or later) Veterans

40,960

20,761

+5,608

+37.0%

Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001) Veterans

42,874

21,071

-3,380

-13.8%

Vietnam Era Veterans

119,658

53,907

-9,287

-14.7%

Korean War Veterans

32,479

14,479

-3,946

-21.4%

World War II Veterans

16,239

8,170

-5,433

-39.9%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates


Through the Years

Looking into the numbers, there is no doubt that the Metro Area’s veteran population is decreasing. For example, between the 2013 and 2018 ACS 5-year estimates, the veteran population in the Metro Area declined by about 16 percent, over 27,200 veterans. Accounting for over one-third of this declining population, the number of Vietnam Era veterans decreased by nearly 9,300 people between the 2013 and 2018 estimates. With the youngest Vietnam Era veterans now in their 60s, the largest share of veterans in the Metro Area will witness significant shifts to later conflicts today and through the coming decades.

Today there are nearly 14,500 Korean War veterans living in the Metro Area. This population decreased, however, by almost 4,000 people between the 2013 and 2018 ACS estimates. Being older than Vietnam Era servicemen and women, such veterans witnessed the second sharpest decline in numbers over the past decade. The sharpest decline in veteran numbers came from those who served during World War II.

Since 2013 the number of World War II veterans in the Metro Area has declined by nearly 40 percent. 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the youngest veterans of that war are now in their 90s. Similar to Vietnam Era and Korean War veterans, World War II veterans have and will witness significant declines both today and through the next decade as they get older.

While the total number of veterans in the Metro Area has decreased over the past decade, the number of veterans who have served since September 2001 has increased. Currently an estimated 20,761 post-September 2001 veterans reside in the Metro Area, making up one-seventh of the region’s total veterans. The number of such veterans increased by 37.0 percent between the 2013 and 2018 ACS 5-year estimates, more than 5,600 veterans.

With such significant shifts in the number and age of veterans, new and on-going questions will inevitably come up around military-to-civilian transition, education and work experience, skills employers are looking for, retirement, assisted living and healthcare, transportation, and questions around the end of life for many veterans. These are questions that individuals, families, communities, businesses, non-profit organizations, foundations, and more will be confronted with.

Quality of Life

Just how are veterans doing in the Seven-County Metro Area? Taking a look into the most recent statistics on median income, poverty, educational attainment, employment status, and disability status, we can begin to answer that very question (see Table 3).

Table 3. Veteran Income, Labor Force, and Educational Attainment in the Metro Area, 2018

Subject

2018 Total Population

2018 Veterans

2013 Veterans

Total Population 18+

2,320,766

144,958

172,192

Median Income

$40,895

$46,258

$43,822

Percent Income below Poverty Level

8.5%

4.7%

4.5%

Educational Attainment for Population 25 Years and Over

Total Population 25+

2,057,562

143,371

170,359

Less than High School Graduate

136,412 (6.6%)

6,031 (4.2%)

5.0%

High School Graduate or Equivalent

410,799 (20.0%)

36,536 (25.5%)

28.1%

Some College or Associate’s Degree

610,888 (29.7%)

53,252 (37.1%)

35.9%

Bachelor’s Degree or Higher

899,463 (43.7%)

47,552 (33.2%)

31.0%

Labor Force Statistics for Population 18 to 64 Years

Total Population 18-64

1,922,011

67,574

95,262

Labor Force Participation Rate

84.9%

83.8%

80.0%

Unemployment Rate

3.4%

3.3%

7.3%

Disability Status

Total with any Disability

268,953

37,405

39,110

Percent with any Disability

11.8%

26.3%

21.7%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates


First up, median income: of those nearly 145,000 veterans living in the Metro Area, their median annual income in 2018 was approximately $46,258. This was just over 13 percent higher than the median annual income for the total population in the Metro Area, $40,895. It also happened to be just over 13 percent higher than the median annual income for veterans across the State of Minnesota, $40,687. Zooming into the Metro Area, median annual incomes for veterans were highest for those living in Scott County ($51,905) and lowest for those living in Ramsey County ($41,268) and Hennepin County ($42,685).

With a higher annual median income, veterans living in the Metro Area also have a lower poverty rate. As of 2018 the share of veterans living in the Metro Area with income below the poverty level was 4.7 percent. Comparatively, 8.5 percent of the total population in the region had incomes below the poverty level. All is not equal within the region, however. While the share of those veterans living below the poverty level is much lower in Carver County (1.3 percent), Anoka County (2.9 percent), Scott County (2.9 percent), Dakota County (3.3 percent), and Washington County (3.7 percent), it is higher in Hennepin County (6.1 percent) and Ramsey County (5.8 percent).

In terms of educational attainment, veterans living in the Metro Area are much more likely to have completed some college or obtained an Associate’s Degree. A much smaller share of veterans go on to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree or higher than their nonveteran counterparts in the region. Even so, only about 4 percent of veterans in the Metro Area have less than a high school diploma. This compares to about 7 percent of the total population in the Metro Area having less than a high school diploma. Since 2013, a higher share of veterans have gone on to achieve higher levels of education.

Considering the skills that veterans gain while serving in the military, along with their educational attainment, it is encouraging to see very high labor force participation rates and low unemployment across the Metro Area. It’s also encouraging to see that these labor force indicators have trended in positive directions over the past decade. For example, between the 2013 and 2018 ACS 5-year estimates, veteran labor force participation increased from 80.0 percent to 83.8 percent. At the same time, veteran unemployment in the region decreased from 7.3 percent to 3.3 percent. Not all is equal, however, with unemployment for veterans in the Metro Area. While unemployment rates were very low for veterans in Washington County (1.6 percent) and Carver County (1.8 percent), it was higher for veterans living in Ramsey County (6.6 percent).

After taking a look through median income and poverty status, educational attainment, and labor force statistics, it would seem veterans, as a whole, are doing very well in the Seven-County Metro Area. Median annual income is higher for veterans than the overall population, poverty rates are lower, labor force participation rates are higher, and unemployment is generally very low. In terms of educational attainment, veterans are less likely than their nonveteran counterparts to have Bachelor’s Degrees or higher, but are more likely to have some college or Associate’s Degrees. As such, veterans may have to rely more on their skill sets and experience from working in the military to find and secure a career once they have transitioned into the civilian labor market.

While the statistics certainly seem to paint an encouraging picture for veteran’s life in the Metro Area, challenges are ever present for many such individuals. Looking into disability statistics reveals one of these major challenges facing many veterans. As of 2018, over 37,400 veterans in the Metro Area reported living with a disability. This accounts for over one-quarter of veterans living in the region. For reference, about one-tenth of the overall population reports living with a disability (see Table 3). The ACS asks about six types of disabilities: hearing difficulty, vision difficulty, cognitive difficulty, ambulatory difficulty, self-care difficulty, and independent living difficulty. Respondents who report anyone of the six disability types are considered to have a disability.

The Metro Area is a large geographic region that includes a lot of people. As we’ve seen with poverty rates and unemployment, zooming to the county level reveals pockets of higher poverty and higher unemployment. Zooming in even further would reveal even more of these pockets. Ultimately, veterans in the Metro Area are doing well. Challenges are present, and utilizing American Community Survey data can begin to highlight where these challenges may exist so that individuals, families, communities, businesses, non-profit organizations, foundations, and government can begin to confront and resolve them.

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