Evan Ramstad
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I was wrong when I wrote in last Sunday's column that retirees are "moving to Minnesota like crazy."

My mistake came from thinking that a census dataset showed migration patterns when it didn't.

Readers often find something disagreeable or wrong about an opinion I express. I don't ever want to be wrong about facts, though, and this was a particularly bad mistake on a topic that is often talked about in Minnesota.

Even worse is that readers of that column thought they saw a different mistake, and their discussion of that dominated the comments section online. Later, people with more expertise on the state's demographics, along with a couple of readers who downloaded the census data I used and performed their own analysis, pointed out the real mistake.

The best thing I can do now is be honest with you, angry with myself and try to not let it happen again.

If you missed the column, I wrote about taxes since the April 15 tax deadline was at hand. I dove into several topics to explain why I don't complain about the state's tax rates as much as some readers think I should.

I started with the perennial debate about wealthy retirees leaving the state after being told about some census data that seemed to show the state is gaining retirees, not losing them.

But I was misreading the data. More details about that ahead.

Some readers assigned a political motive to the column. "Liberal media liars!!!!" one reader emailed, adding a poop emoji and a few others.

While I sometimes write when business and government interests cross, I have an economically focused agenda, not a political one. I've made my agenda clear since my first column at the start of last year: Minnesota is being reshaped by slowing population and economic growth.

This is both a challenge and opportunity for Minnesotans. I gravitate to evidence of this new condition we're all in and to people who are trying to change it.

The person who showed me the latest census data broken down by age, Mark Haveman of the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence, did so because it illustrated the labor scarcity that's an effect of slow population growth. He grouped the data in three ranges: 17 and under, 18 to 65, and 66 and over. The databox nearby illustrates the entire math.

I went to the census website, duplicated Haveman's math and was so pleased with myself that I kept looking at the changes in every year level. Where I went wrong was in thinking the data showed movement of people in and out of the state. It only showed their rise up the age ranks.

I compounded the mistake by writing, "Twice as many people over age 65 moved to Minnesota as people ages 18 to 65 moved out of Minnesota." Many readers thought I was making an apples-to-oranges comparison and wondered why I wasn't counting people over 65 who left.

I was counting them, at least in the sense that the age data I examined was net change year-by-year. However, as just mentioned, that data wasn't showing migration. The Census Bureau has a different dataset breaking down state-to-state, even country-to-state, relocation by age level.

Haveman didn't make those mistakes. When he described the data to the center's members in a February memo, he wrote, "Much is made about the state's workforce participation levels and for good reason. Census numbers like this suggest we absolutely need all the participation we can muster."

Haveman and I share the view that the comings and goings of wealthy retirees, while entertaining to talk about, are less important to the Minnesota economy than the declining number of working-age Minnesotans.

So does John Phelan, economist at the Center of the American Experiment, the right-leaning think tank in Golden Valley, who pays close attention to migration data. My column led him and a colleague to look at Minnesota's migration numbers from 2020 to 2022.

They found a net of 7,129 fewer people in Minnesota due to migration over those two years. That stems from about 46,000 more people going to other states than coming here, and about 39,000 more people arriving from other countries than Minnesotans heading abroad.

Rather than attracting tens of thousands more retirees as I wrote last week, Phelan found Minnesota lost 3,725 more than it gained in those two years. More significantly, around 36,000 more working-age people left Minnesota than moved here.

That difference between retiree and working-age outflow reinforces what I said last week about the pressure on Minnesota's workforce, using the age-level data. In a note to his subscribers and a phone conversation with me on Wednesday, Phelan generously said that I was right "on the more important economic point."

That's no consolation nor excuse, however, for misreading data and leaving readers with an erroneous takeaway.