Study: Rural Minnesota counties are poorest, but getting more diverse

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While the area from St. Cloud through the Twin Cities to Rochester is thriving, a new study reveals rural Minnesota is poorer, especially in north-central Minnesota.

WCCO reports since the 1960s, migrants have left rural Minnesota for this thriving urban and suburban band, leaving behind what is now an aging population.

The State of Rural Minnesota report finds north-central Minnesota is home to the most students on free government-subsidized lunch programs in the state, according to the The Forum.

The report was presented to legislators Thursday by the Center for Rural Policy and Development as a House committee looks at improving conditions outside the Twin Cities.

Poor Indian reservations in north-central Minnesota are one of "a thousand different factors" causing the poverty, says Executive Director Brad Finstad.

"Deep rural" areas are losing younger residents, which means losing workers and impacting property taxes, according to The Forum.

The average age in rural counties is 46, which is older than the national average of 38.

In 12 counties, half the population is 65 or older. The demand for medical care is expected to increase. WCCO reports the jobs in demand will be food processing, health care and manufacturing.

Minorities are moving out to these rural areas, and college helps attract some young people, the study finds. Across the state, the percentage of people of color has risen from 6 percent to 15 percent since 1990.

The study finds the growth primarily from Latinos, Laotians, Somalis, Sudanese and Hmong. Now 114 different are spoken languages in Minnesota, mostly in the south.

“You’re seeing fewer and fewer farmers,” Finstad tells WCCO. “Farms are getting farther and farther apart.”

A study published in December 2014 by the Minnesota State Demographer's office reports that due to the aging population of farmers, more people of color and women are taking to the fields to farm.

Nine counties are seeing their population growing because of an influx of people of color between 1990 and 2012: Hennepin, Ramsey, Clearwater, Fillmore, Lyon, Mower, Mahnomen, Nobles and St. Louis counties.

Income is another gap area between the suburbs and rural Minnesota. the biggest median 2012 household income was in Scott County at $86,324, which is more than double the lowest in Wadena County at $37,577.

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