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Census Shows Growing Rural Diversity

By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News
It came as no surprise that the seven-county metropolitan area of the Twin Cities grew the most, and not just by a little.  According to the U.S. 2020 Census, 78% of Minnesota’s growth was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. Metro growth accounted for more than 300,000 of the 400,000 people added in the state. Nine percent of the nation’s population growth took place on the fringes of metropolitan areas.

Three counties saw solid growth outside the metropolitan area – Olmstead with the City of Rochester, Stearns with St. Cloud, and Clay with Moorhead.

While rural counties with regional centers and counties with multiple recreational lakes grew, many rural counties where agricultural land dominates the landscape saw their populations fall. All 35 of Minnesota’s 87 counties that saw a decline were in rural areas. It is a nationwide trend.

U.S. Census Bureau data show large areas of rural America losing population. Today, 86.3% of the nation’s people live in a metropolitan area with populations of 50,000 or more.

With the loss of population, rural America and Minnesota lose political clout with fewer members in state legislatures and fewer members of Congress elected from those rural areas.

However, one other factor that has come into play for rural counties that have seen growth in the past decade is immigration. Over the past three decades, America’s Hispanic population has doubled and is close to 20% as of 2020. It is also reported that they likely account for half of the nation’s growth.

Minorities are becoming a significant part of our rural Minnesota population, a trend that will continue and likely accelerate.

In Minnesota, those who identified themselves as White fell from 83.1% a decade ago to 76.3% in 2020. Meanwhile, there was growth in minority populations, with 6.9% of the state’s population identifying themselves as Black, 6.1% as Hispanic, and 5.2% Asian. The American Indian population remains at 1%.

In rural west-central Minnesota, much of our growth, limited as it is, can be attributed to immigration and the expanding second and third generations of those immigrants.

With its mix of mostly Hispanic and Somali people, Kandiyohi County has seen the largest increase in diversity in the region. Nearly one-quarter of the county now identifies as non-White, while 10 years ago, that percentage was 15.

Stevens County saw those identifying as non-White double going from 8% to 16% over the past decade. The majority of the increase is due to the growth of the Hispanic community.

Swift County also saw its non-White population more than double going from 5% to 12%. Again, it is the Hispanic population growth in the county that accounts for most of the increase.

Pope County remains near the bottom of the state’s 87 counties for diversity, with just 5% of its population identifying as non-White. That is up only 2 percentage points from 2010 when it was 3%. Still, the county showed growth, probably linked to its lakes and proximity to the regional hub of Alexandria.

Rural Minnesota’s growing immigrant population is essential to keeping our businesses and industries supplied with a labor force that will replace the hundreds of thousands of rural Baby Boomers retiring. They will be vital to the economic health of our communities.

We didn’t need the 2020 Census to tell us that our communities are becoming more diverse. We see it increasingly in the faces of our friends and neighbors, fellow workers, and the children our children and grandchildren play with today. We see it in the new businesses that open on our main streets.

These newcomers bring much to our communities.

“Outsiders bring new energy and ideas to your community. They bring money, and they spend it too,” Doug Griffiths, founder of 13 Ways and author of “13 Ways to Kill Your Community,” writes. “They bring kids for your school. They bring volunteers for community events. They start businesses. They buy houses. They grow the economy. They add an adaptability to communities that have grown old and stagnant. They bring fresh perspectives to old challenges. If you aren’t a welcoming community, you likely won’t get much, if any, of those great things.”

Griffiths says that many small townspeople will tell you they are welcoming of new people but he questions if they really understand the meaning of the word.

“The first problem is that what most of us think of as being welcoming is just being friendly,” he writes. “There are a lot of friendly communities out there. I have been to many places where people smile when they pass you on the street. Some even say, ‘Hi’. If you are lost, they will even point a finger in the direction you should head. That is being friendly. There is nothing wrong with just being friendly, but admit that is all you are, and stop telling yourself your community is welcoming when it takes so much more than being friendly.”

Being welcoming goes a step beyond being friendly. It means inviting newcomers into your home and social groups. It means helping them feel your community is their community, too. If we don’t do these things, we may lose out on attracting and keeping immigrants.

The U.S. 2020 Census has shown us where our communities are headed. Those that are the most welcoming of their new neighbors will be the ones that give themselves a chance to grow.

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