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Census: Minnesota's diversity growth continues

ST. PAUL—Minnesota continues to grow more diverse, according to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday.

The latest data showed that populations of people of color have increased faster in Minnesota than the rest of the nation since 2010. Meanwhile, the state's white population growth remained relatively stagnant.

The change can be seen in the ethnic communities emerging around St. Paul; in the expansion of organizations such as the Karen Organization of Minnesota and the Hmong American Partnership; and in St. Paul Public Schools, where in 2010 district families spoke 77 different languages at home — that stood at 128 languages in 2017.

Janna Johnson, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs who studies minority populations, said the latest numbers likely don't tell the entire story. Minority populations tend to be undercounted, meaning Minnesota's is likely even larger, she said.

Mohamad SheikOmer, who started the Somali-Oromo Peace Task Force in St. Paul, has noticed the uptick in diversity since he moved to Minnesota. SheikOmer, who has a wife and seven children, moved from Ethiopia to Maryland in April 2014, then St. Paul three months later.

He relocated his family to Minnesota because there are more opportunities, noting for example it's much easier to find people who speak Somali in St. Paul than in Maryland.

"We can help each other at work, how to get benefits, how to get schooling," SheikOmer said.

Suzanne Olive, community engagement specialist for the Karen Organization of Minnesota, said Minnesota is home to the nation's largest Karen community — which is a community of refugees from Burma. There are an estimated 17,000 Karen refugees in the state — the majority of whom live in St. Paul.

Minnesota's social service agencies geared toward helping refugees — like the International Institute of Minnesota, Vietnamese Social Services and Arrive Ministries — are drawing newcomers to the state, Olive said. A lot of refugees who initially resettle in a different state end up moving to Minnesota.

According to the latest Census Bureau estimates for July 1, 2017, Minnesota's white population stood at 4,455,605, a 1 percent increase from 2010; its black population was 352,721, a 31 percent jump; its Hispanic population was 301,407, a 20 percent gain; and its Asian population was 280,841, a 30 percent increase.

State demographer Susan Brower said Minnesota is simply catching up to the rest of the nation as far as its diversity growth. The growth rate for minorities in the state outpaced national figures between 2010 and 2017 — 30 percent for blacks in Minnesota, for example, compared with 7 percent for the entire U.S.

Minnesota had never been a particularly diverse state. The Twin Cities were never the draw for blacks who relocated from the rural South to industrialized cities like Detroit and Chicago during the Great Migration between 1916 and 1970, noted Johnson. And the nation's Hispanic population flourished in the nation's Southwest, but not so much in the cold north.

Emphasizing the starting point Minnesota came from, "we're simply catching up with the rest of the country," Johnson said.

The Census Bureau uses births, deaths and migration to estimate the population within each county. Estimating births and deaths is the easy part, she said. Estimating the migration population is more complicated, and it can make the population estimates "less than perfect."

As a demographer, Johnson wants to know more about the numbers before she can draw any conclusions.

For example, whites in urban areas tend to be older, which means they are less likely to reproduce; while many minority populations tend to be younger, and more likely to have children, she added.

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