No one knows what the future will bring, but the experts at the Minnesota State Demographic Center have made some informed predictions as to where Minnesota population growth—and decline—will be occurring over the next several decades. To some extent, projected patterns of Minnesota population change resemble historical patterns observed since 1950 (which were summarized in a recent North Star article), although there are some significant differences.
The State Demographic Center projects population change for each of Minnesota’s 87 counties at five-year increments, beginning in 2020 and ending in 2050, based on a five-step process summarized in a recent methodology document. The following analysis uses 2016 State Demographic Center population estimates as a baseline and projected county data from the Center published in March 2017.
As with the preceding articles in this series, the 87 Minnesota counties will be sorted into three groups: (1) the seven-county metropolitan area (comprised of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington); (2) nine “collar” counties immediately adjacent to the seven metro counties (Chisago, Goodhue, Isanti, Le Sueur, McLeod, Rice, Sherburne, Sibley, and Wright); and (3) the 71 remaining counties, referred to here as “Greater Minnesota counties.”*
From 2016 to 2050, Minnesota’s population is projected to increase by 15.2 percent, from 5.53 million to 6.36 million. The projected annual rate of state population growth over this period is 0.42 percent, significantly slower than the 0.96 percent annual growth rate from 1950 to 2010 and the estimated 0.69 percent growth rate from 2010 to 2016. Based on 2015 projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population is projected to grow at an annual average rate of 0.62 percent from 2014 to 2050—considerably faster than in Minnesota (although the Census Bureau projections of U.S. population were made using a different methodology and thus are not strictly comparable to State Demographic Center projections of Minnesota population).
As was the case for the period preceding 2016, post-2016 population growth is not expected to be evenly distributed across the state. Ninety-six percent of state population growth from 2016 to 2050 is projected to occur within the seven-county metropolitan area (henceforth referred to as the “metro area”). Population within the collar counties—as noted in the preceding article—grew rapidly from 1960 to 2010, but slowed from 2010 to 2016; collar county growth is projected to slow even further in coming decades, increasing at an annual average rate of just 0.19 percent from 2016 to 2050, compared to projected 0.70 percent growth in the metro area. Over the same period, the population of the 71 counties of Greater Minnesota is projected to decline slightly.
Because of these differential growth rates, the state’s population is projected to shift even more heavily to the metro area. The share of Minnesota’s population residing in the metro area—estimated at 55.0 percent in 2016—is projected to grow to 60.5 percent by 2050. Meanwhile, the share of the total state population residing in the collar counties and Greater Minnesota is projected to decline. During the century from 1950 to 2050, the state population distribution is expected to flip; while just over sixty percent of the state population resided outside the seven-county metro in 1950, just over sixty percent is projected to reside within the metro area by 2050.
There is considerable variation in population change among the counties within each of these regions. For example, population is projected to increase from 2016 to 2050 in 25 of the 71 Greater Minnesota counties; in six of these counties (Beltrami, Benton, Blue Earth, Clay, Crow Wing, and Olmsted), growth is projected to exceed ten percent; however, even in Olmsted—the Greater Minnesota county expected to have the largest population increase—the rate of growth from 2016 to 2050 is below the projected statewide average. Projected population loss over this period exceeds ten percent in 23 Greater Minnesota counties and exceeds twenty percent in eight. The largest percent loss in population (37.2 percent) is projected to occur in Traverse County.
Population is projected to increase from 2016 to 2050 in five of the collar counties and decline in the remaining four. Even among those collar counties with expected increases, however, the projected rate of growth is below the statewide average, except for Wright County. The projected percentage population growth in all seven metro counties—ranging from 18.5 percent in Anoka County to 45.4 percent in Carver—exceeds the projected statewide average. In fact, the six counties with the greatest projected percentage population growth from 2016 to 2050 are all located in the seven-county metro, while the slowest growing metro county (Anoka) ranks eighth among the 87 Minnesota counties in terms of projected percentage increase in population over the next 34 years.
Some counties projected to have significant percentage increases (or decreases) in population from 2016 to 2050 had very small populations in 2016. Thus, substantial percentage increases (or decreases) in the population of these small counties will not contribute much to projected overall state population gain. As was the case during the period from 1950 to 2016, Hennepin County is expected to lead the state in terms of total population growth, adding a projected 339,000 people by 2050. The seven counties with the largest increase in absolute population from 2016 to 2050 are all located in the metro area. The following map shows the projected numerical increase in county population from 2016 to 2050.
The State Demographer’s projections allow us to examine the expected increase in state population in coming decades at five-year increments. Statewide—and within the metro area and collar counties—population is projected to increase steadily over the next three and a half decades, although the rate of population growth diminishes somewhat over time. The percentage growth in population in the metro area is projected to exceed statewide average growth throughout the period from 2016 to 2050, while collar county growth will be well below the statewide average.
The total population of Greater Minnesota is expected to increase slowly through 2025 and slowly decline after that. By 2050, the total population of these 71 counties is projected to be about 2,000 less than it was in 2016—a scant decline of 0.1 percent. Over the same period, the population of the metro area is expected to increase by 26.6 percent and the collar counties by 6.5 percent.
As noted above, nearly all of the statewide population growth in coming decades is expected to occur in the metro area. From 2016 to 2020, 88 percent of statewide population growth is projected to be in the metro. Over time, the share of statewide population growth occurring in the metro area is expected to increase; during the decade from 2040 to 2050, the combined population of the collar and Greater Minnesota counties is projected to decline slightly, while the metro population is projected to increase by 186,000 (5.1 percent).
Based on State Demographer’s projections, Minnesota population growth in coming decades will be even more heavily concentrated in the metro area than it was in the past, while growth in the collar counties is projected to slow relative to the rate experienced over the last half century—a trend which is already underway, based on estimates from 2011 to 2016. Meanwhile, the population of Greater Minnesota is expected to remain nearly flat, growing very slowly over the next decade and declining very slowly after that. Events can transpire that would substantively alter these anticipated trends, but at this point they represent the most likely course of future developments, based on the analysis of state demographic experts.
*“Greater Minnesota” typically refers to the 80 counties outside of the seven-county metro area; in this article, “Greater Minnesota” will refer only to the 71 counties, excluding the seven metro and nine collar counties.