Minnesota’s face is changing, we need to adjust

A few weeks ago Minnesota’s Congressional delegation sparred in its annual “hotdish” contest. In a stunning victory, Colin Peterson’s Right to Bear Arms Hotdish took the top prize, while Republicans Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis tied for second. It’s the kind of humor we love – poking fun at our peculiar Minnesotan traits.

We make jokes about lime green Jell-O surprise at the church supper, we say “ya sure you betcha” on occasion (intentionally or not) and we cheer our football team with chants of “Skol.”

We trace those eccentric ethnic traits back to our first influx of immigrants in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. People from Scandinavia, Germany and Ireland flocked to the Midwest to find farmland and jobs in factories. Finnish and Slovakian miners settled in the Iron Range. These immigrants built homes, barns, churches and schools. They farmed the land, dug in the mines, filled the mills and set up shops on Main Street.

By the end of the 20th Century, that stereotypical view of Minnesota was changing. Large numbers of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong, Chinese, Hispanic, African and Middle Eastern people settled in various parts of the state. In some communities, people of color outnumber the traditional European white person.

No question, Minnesota’s face is changing and it is changing fast. And there is no going back. That’s why our ECM Editorial Board will look into the issues and opportunities these changes will create for our future selves in our 2017 in-depth topic.

Our series will note that race isn’t the only thing changing among us. Our state is aging at a rapid rate. Five years ago, 13 percent of our population was 65 years or older – 2015 numbers say that has grown to 15 percent.  By 2040 the percentage of people over 65 is estimated to be 20 percent.

Disparities are growing. The divide between rich and poor is getting larger. The median family income in Minnesota is $61,492, yet 10.2 percent of our people live in poverty.

The face of the Minnesota worker is changing. Despite the unemployment rate sitting at a low 4 percent, all is not rosy throughout the state. Unemployment in logging and mining is almost 8 percent. The unemployment rate among black/African Americans is almost 9 percent.  Yet at the same time, businesses are hungry for skilled workers throughout manufacturing and other industries.

Our changing face is also obvious in our school systems. Anoka-Hennepin School District reports that its students speak more than 80 languages. Some schools have large percentages of students who struggle with English. The achievement gap continues to grow.

Our editorial board series will ask questions such as: What are the most significant changes and challenges to our way of life? What can we do to create a “new” Minnesota, one that is welcoming and inclusive for all? What should our local and state leaders be doing today to prepare for the many changes yet to come?

This week we look specifically at the changing color of Minnesota. The traditional Scandinavian blond image is being replaced by a demographic that includes large numbers of black, Asian, Hispanic and recent immigrants from Somalia and Liberia.

Statewide, Minnesota is about 81 white (non Hispanic) and 19 percent other races. The largest group is black or African American, at 6 percent. Asian is about 5 percent, and Hispanic about 5 percent.

While the largest numbers of people of color is in the Twin Cities metro, some outstate areas are seeing similar shifts. For example, Nobles County in southwestern Minnesota is 25 percent Hispanic.

An emotional divide also exists. For some, the changing color of our state is a frightening situation. They blame crime rates, drug trafficking and gang activity on communities of color. The newest immigrants from places like Somalia generate fear of terroristic attacks.

Not only is the color of our state’s faces changing, it is changing at a rate higher than white.

In Region 5, which includes Morrison County, the percentages of gains in non-white population doubled from 2000 to 2014, while the white population grew by 4.2 percent.

In southeast Minnesota, the percentage of increase in black or African American was 142 percent, compared to 5 percent for white. The number of Hispanics grew by 83 percent.

Granted, actual numbers remain small but population projections show that the trend of increasing populations of people of color and the stabilization of people who are white will continue into future decades.

The Metropolitan Council, in a Metro Stats report in September 2016, issued these findings:

– While employment rates have increased for Hispanic, black and Asians in the metro area, the employment disparity is still the highest in the U.S.

– The poverty rate among blacks in the metro is higher today than in 2000. That rate increase slightly for Hispanics in the same time frame.

– Homeownership rates have not improved. Black homeownership rate is lower, as is the Latino homeownership rate.

We will do future generations a great service by acknowledging these changes today and begin to plan and prepare for tomorrow. Sessions such as one recently in Brooklyn Park, “A Community Forum on Race,” and sessions called “Reimagine Minnesota” in the many suburban school districts are excellent ways to begin the dialogue and to develop a call to action.

Increasing the awareness and decreasing the disparities should be key to our action plan. We are only as strong as our weakest link. We need to help those in poverty rise to a functioning level. We need to work hand in hand with our state’s business community for a full and active workforce.

While the face of tomorrow’s Minnesota will be very different than our stereotypes, it can be one that is prosperous and rewarding for all.

  • An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board. Reactions to this editorial — and to any commentary on these pages – are always welcome. Send to: [email protected].

Next in the series, “The Changing Face of Minnesota,” will be a look at the aging of our population.