New census numbers show Minnesota is getting olderby Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
The latest census estimates show that Minnesota continues to get older. The state's median age has gone up two years since 2000. That trend is no surprise to demographers who have been tracking the baby boom generation for years. Political and business leaders in the state continue to wave warning flags about the impact this age group will have.
St. Paul, Minn. — According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the median age in Minnesota is 37.1. That means half of Minnesotans are older than that and half are younger. Minnesota's median age is slightly higher than the nation's by six months.
The median age in Minnesota and the U.S. has been creeping up for years as baby boomers age. Since 2000, there has been a 22 percent jump in the population of people who are 85 and up, and there's been a 40 percent increase in the number of people in their 50s.
"We're all aging. We're all getting a bit older," said state demographer Tom Gillaspy. "I know some don't like to admit it, but we are getting older. That's pretty normal for a person to do that, but it's not really normal for a society to do that.
But the baby boom, coupled with the fact that Minnesotans are having fewer children, translate into an older population in the state.
The increasing age of the population is the state's number one public policy challenge, according to Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina.
"These numbers, I think, should serve as alarm bells for public policy-makers, especially those of us here in St. Paul, to get to work," said Michel.
Michel meets with a group of lawmakers dubbed the 20-20 Caucus.
"We use that number, because the year 2020 will be the first year in Minnesota history where we have more retirees than kids in schools," explained Michel. "Alarm bells, health care budgets versus education budgets. Where do you set priorities, how do you deal with that kind of challenge?"
And as the population ages, fewer people will be working and paying the taxes that fund government services for retirees like Social Security and Medicare.
Tom Hesse with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said that has huge tax implications for workers for several decades.
"In addition, it indicates that the workforce needs to become more productive, so we can deal with this in a way other than just increasing taxes, because I don't think we can just keep increasing tax levels on Minnesotans in order to fund the needs of a more aging population. It would just be too costly," Hesse said.
Some older workers will continue to be part of the tax base, though. The oldest baby boomers turn 62 this year -- the average age when Americans begin retiring. But AARP spokesman Amy McDonough said they're not all ready to retire.
"No longer is 65 the automatic age where people decide to give it up. People want to stay in the workforce oftentimes, because they're healthier and they're able to do it. Often they have to stay because of the costs of health care are so high that they can't afford not to," said McDonough.
McDonough said the implications of workers staying on the job longer can be positive, because they bring knowledge, experience and a traditional work ethic. And that can be valuable to employers that are having trouble recruiting younger workers.
Census estimates show that's likely to get harder. There's been a 14 percent drop in the number of 35- to 39-year-olds since 2000. One of the industries that will be hard hit by the shrinking workforce is technology.
Kate Rubin, President of the Minnesota High Tech Association, said the industry has been trying to convince a higher percentage of kids to pursue math and science careers.
"We'll need between 22 and 33 percent more workers in the technology area over the next 10 years. So we need to get more of the people who have not traditionally looked at those careers into those careers," said Rubin.
It's clear that the workforce won't be getting bigger in the near future, but it eventually will stop shrinkng. Census estimates show the number of kids under age five is on the upswing.
- Morning Edition, 05/01/2008, 7:20 a.m.