Minnesota's population grew at a steady pace in 2014, but the outflow of residents to other states continues to create an undertow as the state grapples with the reality of a slow-growing workforce.
Minnesota added more population than any state in the Midwest in 2014 — just over 35,000 people, according to estimates released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau. The state continues to gain ground on Wisconsin in population, while North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska are adding more residents at a faster pace.
Economists monitor population levels because it gives them a sense of the growth of the labor force. For Minnesota, a well-educated workforce has been the fuel for an economy that has outperformed the nation for decades.
"In the past we have relied on an always-increasing labor force and what we're going to see in the next 15 to 20 years as the baby boomers retire is much slower growth of that labor force," said Susan Brower, the state demographer.
The numbers of births and deaths in a given year are fairly predictable, said Brower, so demographers and economists look closely at migration patterns, which can move around more dramatically.
"By 2042 our population won't grow any more, because the number of deaths will outpace the number of births, so we really have to look to that international and domestic migration component for any growth going forward," Brower said.
Minnesota lost 6,700 residents to other states in 2014, in line with its trend over the past 15 years, but added more than 14,000 through international migration. The growth in international migration is due to a combination of highly skilled workers moving here for jobs and groups such as the Somali community, which attract more immigrants to Minnesota, Brower said.
Over the past four years, Minnesota has added 146,755 people to bring its population to 5.5 million, according to Census Bureau estimates, far and away the largest increase in absolute terms in the Midwest. Indiana added 106,547 people in that period.
Most Midwestern states, however, continue to lag the Sun Belt in population growth.
Illinois lost population in 2014 because so many people left for other states. The net loss to domestic migration was 94,000 people, more than enough to offset increases thanks to births and international migration.
Michigan and Wisconsin have also struggled to add population in the past few years. Wisconsin added only 14,600 people in 2014, and over the past four years, population growth in Minnesota has more than doubled that of Wisconsin. Wisconsin's population remains larger than Minnesota's, at 5.8 million.
Florida surpassed New York in 2014 as the third most populous state behind only Texas and California. With population growth slowed to a crawl in New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, a Sun Belt triumvirate — California, Texas and Florida — is set to pull away from the rest of the country in coming years.
Meanwhile, North Carolina surpassed Michigan in 2014. Georgia passed Michigan in 2012.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405
midwest Population change, 2011-14
State 4-yr pop. change
Minnesota 146,755 (2.8%)
Indiana 106,547 (1.6%)
Wisconsin 68,296 (1.2%)
North Dakota 65,137 (9.7%)
Iowa 56,831 (1.9%)
Ohio 54,093 (0.5%)
Nebraska 51,638 (2.8%)
Illinois 40,483 (0.3%)
South Dakota 36,983 (4.5%)
Michigan 33,379 (0.3%)
Source: U.S. Census Bureau estimates