ST. PAUL (Sept. 2, 2011) — Minnesota’s politics and policies must adapt.
“People think of Minneapolis-St. Paul as pretty white places made up of Norwegian bachelor farmers. More recently, Minnesota is part of the new diversity spreading across major U.S. cities.”
Those are the words of William Fry, the researcher behind a sweeping new report on minorities in metropolitan areas issued this week by the Brookings Institution, a public-policy organization based in Washington. That new diversity isn’t affecting the country uniformly, which is why it’s important to pay attention to Minnesota developments.
The report draws on census data to trace shifts in Hispanic, Asian and black populations in the nation’s largest cities. It provides another useful tool for Twin Cities leaders and lawmakers to consider in their long-range planning for the state.
“Rapid ‘new minority’ gains to [metro] areas coupled with very modest growth, or often declines, in white populations put these areas on the front lines of a transformative era affecting public policy and race relations for decades to come,” the report said.
Among the key national findings:
• Nonwhites and Hispanics accounted for 98 percent of population growth in large metro areas from 2000 to 2010.
• Blacks remain more residentially segregated than either Hispanics or Asians.
• In two-thirds of U.S. metro areas, including the Twin Cities, Mexican-Americans contributed most to Hispanic growth. They’re drawn by a demand for workers in lower-end services industries and, in better times, construction jobs.
It’s no secret that Minnesota’s dominant white population is aging and that the Scandinavian and German cultures are being infused with Hispanics, blacks and Asians who are younger and producing more children. As these young people age, the population will continue to shift in dramatic ways, Fry says.
“You’ll see it in the schools first, then in the labor force,” he said. “Civic leaders need to make adjustments and educate the older, white population about the importance of providing social services and other amenities to help these young people. They are your future.”
We’re constantly reminded that a number of factors put that future at risk: the troubling achievement gap between white students and kids of color; higher crime rates among minority groups; higher unemployment rates among minority populations.
Without greater public conversation and commitment to addressing those issues, the Twin Cities could experience a vast cultural, racial and generational gap. “These groups will continue to compete over politics on immigration, education, and the divvying up of scarce public funds,” the report said.
Fry calls the shift happening in the Twin Cities “diversifying from the bottom up” because the cultural change is happening among the state’s younger citizens. A similar pattern is occurring in other U.S. cities, but at a faster rate than in Minnesota.
The Twin Cities ranks ninth among cities whose black population increased from 2000-2010. Fry attributes the growth to the influx of Somalis and, likely, people relocating from the Chicago area.
The slower pace of change here gives our leaders the advantage of being more strategic in their long-range planning for our changing population and labor force. But they can’t continue doing business as usual. For instance, the demographic shift is more evidence that state lawmakers should rethink the drastic cuts in local government aid to metro areas.
While the state isn’t in any danger of losing its reputation as the Land of Lutefisk anytime soon, Minnesotans should embrace the richly diverse landscape that’s emerging. And in the Twin Cities, especially, residents must also come to grips with the critical challenges those trends present.