REGIONAL- While Minnesota has grown by more than 400,000 people in the past ten years, the North Country hasn’t shared in that growth, declining instead by more than four percent, according to …
REGIONAL- While Minnesota has grown by more than 400,000 people in the past ten years, the North Country hasn’t shared in that growth, declining instead by more than four percent, according to data just released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The figures come from the Decennial Redistricting Data Set of the Census, used to determine each state’s number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and for establishing the boundaries for state legislative districts. The numbers are the actual counts registered by the Census, rather than population estimates generated in non-Census years.
Minnesota was in danger of losing one of its congressional seats to New York but held on to all eight when the official 2020 population was set at 5,706,494. If there had been just 26 fewer Minnesotans or 89 more New Yorkers, one seat would have been lost to the Empire State.
However, with growth concentrated in the seven-county Twin Cities region, the size, shape, and location of state legislative districts will have to change in a redistricting process that will in all likelihood end up in the courts.
Every small city in far northern St. Louis County showed a drop in population, in some cases by significant margins. Tower’s population declined by 14 percent, from 500 back in 2010 to just 430 as of the 2020 count. Orr saw a 25- percent decline, from 280 to just 211.
Cook and Ely saw smaller declines, with Cook dropping seven percent, from a population of 574 ten years ago, to 534 today, while Ely saw a 5.5-percent decline, from 3,460 to 3,268. Babbitt lost 78 residents, a 5.6 percent decline.
Surrounding townships reflected differing trends. Both Beatty and Greenwood townships, which encompass Lake Vermilion, experienced population growth. Greenwood went from 939 in 2010 to 1,041 in 2020, an increase of 102, or 10.9 percent. Beatty’s population increased by 46, from 372 to 418, a 12.4-percent jump. Up at the border, Crane Lake Township grew from 82 residents in 2010 to 98 in 2020, a 17-percent increase. In northern Lake County, Fall Lake Township experienced growth as well, increasing by 12.9 percent, to 630 residents, up from 549 in 2010.
Breitung Township, by contrast, lost 75 residents, falling from 605 in the last census to 530, an 11.5- percent drop. Nett Lake, an unincorporated township, saw its population drop from 319 to 264, a slide of 17.2 percent. Meanwhile, losses were much less on a percentage basis in Leiding and Morse townships. Leiding lost just one resident, to sit at 399, while Morse lost 25 residents, a decline of two percent. Orr’s drop of 56 people to a total of 211 was 21 percent.
The Mesabi Range towns weren’t immune, either. Eveleth lost 225 residents, or 6.4 percent, while Virginia lost 291 residents, a 3.5-percent decline. Meanwhile, Hibbing remained largely stable, dropping just 0.9 percent. Mt. Iron was the lone standout, gaining nine residents over the decade.
The declines in the North Country and on the Iron Range didn’t affect the county as a whole as St. Louis County had a net gain of five people to 200,231.
The impact of overall state population growth and shifting proportions of the population from non-metro to metro areas will certainly influence the makeup of state legislative districts in this region as the process of redistricting gets underway.
Current Senate district boundaries were designed to average 79,000 people in each district. With an additional 400,000 people in the state, each of the 67 districts will have to increase by about 6,000, to about 85,000 residents. With flat or declining population in much of the North Country, that means area legislative district will need to expand geographically to encompass more people.
Senate District 3, a seat currently held by Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, has 78,948 people, about 6,000 residents short of what it will need to meet the representation standards under the latest census. Senate District 6, a seat currently held by Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, is about 7,500 shy of the 85,000-person target at 77,524. Neighboring Districts 2, 5, 10 and 11 are also short of the 85,000 mark from about 3,500 to 6,000 people each.
With much of the state’s population growth centered in the metro region, the number of legislative seats in the metro region will need to grow, largely at the expense of rural districts. Greater Minnesota will ultimately see a loss of seats and moderately diminished political clout. The same holds true for seats in the state House of Representatives, where a district represents half of the population living in a given Senate district.
According to an analysis by Minnesota Public Radio, once district lines are adjusted to equalize population, the net result will give voters in fast-growing areas comparatively more weight in legislative elections, with a modest shift in political power to the Twin Cities metro.
This could end up helping the DFL, which tends to do better in the metro and worse in greater Minnesota — though not all growing districts are represented by Democrats and not all shrinking districts are represented by Republicans. Overall, Democrats hold 38 of the districts that as of 2019 estimates were too large, against 22 for Republicans. Among the too-small districts, Republicans hold 42 to Democrats’ 32.
Every state redistricting effort since 1966 has ended up in the courts, and given current political divisions between Republicans and the DFL, the process will likely end up there again. State statute sets an absolute date of Feb. 15, 2022 for this round of redistricting to be finalized in time for the 2022 election cycle.
Trend to continue
The findings of the 2020 Census are consistent with projections from the Minnesota State Demographic Center that indicate population levels in Greater Minnesota have leveled off and will see a slight decline over the next 30 years.
MSDC projects that growth of the overall state population will slow markedly, adding only about 900,000 people by 2053. However, the seven-county Twin Cities metro region will increase by 924,000 residents, while Greater Minnesota will shrink by 27,000.
Of even greater concern is the decline MSDC projects for St. Louis County. By 2050 the county could see its population of 200,000 cut by nearly half.
The MSDC summary report does not provide in-depth analysis of economic factors that could contribute to such a precipitous drop, but instead focuses on three main forces that shape population change – birth, death, and migration.
The fastest-growing group of Minnesotans will be those age 65 and over, and that scenario is reflected in the projections for St. Louis County. As populations shift proportionally older, birth rates decline as well. MSDC indicates that population growth in upcoming decades will be driven largely by migration to the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, skewing the age balance in that area younger.
However, all is not necessarily doom and gloom for the county and North Country in the report. MSDC notes that there are “pockets of Greater Minnesota that will see some increase,” including “some areas known for outdoor recreation,” a hallmark of this area. While the report doesn’t specifically mention this area, it does indicate that the north shore of Lake Superior is one of the areas where growth, rather than loss, may occur.
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