New U.S. Census data released Thursday provides the deepest look at racial, ethnic and Indigenous diversity ever seen.

Unlike most demographic data that categorizes people into a handful of broad groups — white, Black, Latino, Asian and Native American — the latest information reveals Minnesotans describe themselves as belonging to more than 262 racial or ethnic groups and 778 Native tribes.

Community leaders and policymakers hope this level of detail will help them figure out how to better serve subgroups who may have widely varying levels of English fluency, employment, high school graduation and COVID-19 infections.

People of color make up about one-quarter of the state's population and the new data shows that group, which has high percentages of young people, will change the face of Minnesota in the coming decades.

"It's exciting to have this data, knowing it's been coming for years, and to have the closest to a full count is really useful and something that is welcome in a lot of communities across Minnesota," state demographer Susan Brower said.

The detailed breakdowns were taken from the 2020 Census, which for the first time allowed people who selected Black or white as their race to also list a more detailed group. (Other racial groups had been allowed that opportunity in past decades.)

That means, for instance, that no longer are African American descendants of slaves, Somali refugees who settled here 25 years ago and newly arrived Ethiopian immigrants all lumped into one group as "Black."

These changes also make it possible to see, for example, that there are about 35,000 people in Minnesota identifying as Middle Eastern or North African, the largest group being Lebanese. Previously, they were counted as white.

Overall, the new data shows Minnesota's largest non-white groups are Mexican, African American, Hmong, Somali and Asian Indian.

Linda Sloan, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of Black Heritage, praised the more detailed data because it can pinpoint disparities and issues among the Black population that will help her organization try to drive policy chances.

"This is going to be huge with us being able to do our work," she said.

Here are five key takeaways from the data:

Communities of color skew far younger

Minnesota's largest communities of color are dramatically younger than the white population — a gulf that shows how rapidly the state's demographics could shift in the next generation.

That is most dramatic in Minnesota's Somali population, of which nearly half are under age 18. By contrast, just 19% of white non-Hispanic residents are minors.

"When you have a young, diverse population, there's a momentum to diversity that is built into that age structure," Brower said. "One day, those children will grow up and be parents to racially diverse babies."

That trend holds across other nonwhite groups: 39% of Hmong and African American Minnesotans are children, as are 30% of Asian Indians.

Forty percent of Black residents identified African, Caribbean heritage

The increasing diversity in Minnesota's Black population is vividly apparent in the new data, with 58 different groups represented. About 36% wrote down "African American" when prompted to identify a specific group, and nearly 40% identified with African or Caribbean groups. The remainder didn't specify a group.

The second largest group identified as Somali. More than half are in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, while the remainder live in at least 21 other counties.

Community and government leaders have been advocating for more specific data. For example, state demographers have found that Somali Americans live in larger households than African Americans, and a much higher percentage lack a high school diploma compared to than their African American counterparts. African Minnesotans are more likely to have language barriers requiring multilingual outreach. And most Somali Americans have lived here for years and have different needs compared to smaller, newly arrived Black subgroups such as the Congolese, who comprise the bulk of incoming Black refugees.

Sloan noted that there are 54 countries in Africa with 2,000 languages, and people immigrate with different cultural and historical experiences. "I'm really excited to get this information so that I'll know where we need to focus on within the African immigrant group," she said.

Mexican population is spread statewide

People of Mexican descent have the largest population of any non-white group in Minnesota. The state is home to about 214,000 residents of Mexican descent, and they are the largest racial minority group in Dakota County, as well as the counties encompassing Worthington, Austin and Rochester.

Their numbers have grown by more than 38,400 people since the 2010 census, more than any Latino group in the state. Other sizable groups include Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans.

Overall, about 345,000 people identified as Latino in Minnesota, though the numbers are underreported. Brower noted that community groups let people know that it was safe to fill out the Census regardless of immigration status, but Latinos felt vulnerable with the late addition of a question about citizenship which the U.S. Supreme Court ordered removed.

"It was the largest undercount of any group," Brower said.

Hmong still lead state's diverse Asian population

The state's third-largest community of color is Hmong, a group of more than 95,000 that has grown rapidly since the Census reported 66,000 in 2010. Most live in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

"It's not surprising to see the number increasing," said Lee Pao Xiong, director of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University in St. Paul.

He said many Hmong people have moved here from other states because Minnesota has high-quality education and job opportunities, along with affordable housing.

Bigger picture of Native American tribal affiliation

A decade ago, the Census Bureau reported Minnesotans affiliated with 47 American Indian or Alaska Native tribes. The list was short, though, because it only counted tribes with 100 or more people.

The new data identifies 778 tribes, including some from Canada, Central America and South America. For about 150 of those tribes, just one person in Minnesota identified it on the Census form.

When people filled out the Census form, they were encouraged to write in one or more specific tribes. The Census Bureau then matched up those answers to a list of 1,187 identified tribes.

Brower said the data clearly shows that many people identified with multiple tribes. And she noted that more people may have specified a tribe as a result of DNA ancestry testing.

About the data

The data comes from two questions that were on the 2020 Census form. One asked for each person's race; the other asked about their Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.

In both cases, each person had to check a box for one or more broad groups — such as Asian or White or Hispanic or Non-Hispanic — and then could optionally write in a more detailed group name.

The form included prompts, such as: "Print, for example, African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somali, etc."

Question 9 about racial groups on the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau form.
Question 9 about racial groups on the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau form.

The Census Bureau standardized those written group names into 300 race and ethnic groups and 1,187 American Indian and Alaska Natives tribes and villages.

Prior to 2020, the sections for Black and white racial groups didn't offer people a chance to write in a detailed group. Those were added as a result of pressure from various groups around the country seeking a more detailed picture of the nation's population.

The data published this week counted people in these more specific groups at various geography levels, such as state, county and census tract. In addition, there were two sets of numbers reported. One counted how many people identified that group only. The other — which is what the Star Tribune has used here — counted people who identified with a group, even if they also wrote down other groups.

For example, just over 91,000 people in Minnesota identified as Hmong only, but not any other race or detailed group. But more than 95,000 wrote down Hmong either as the only group or in combination with other groups.

The release of the data was delayed by more than one year due to the pandemic.