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Urban and Rural Population

In 2020, U.S. Census Bureau conducted the Decennial Census. Detailed urban-rural classification data from the 2020 Census has not yet been released. This trend will be updated as the data is made available.

Minnesota is home to a growing urban population. More than 80% of Minnesota residents live in an urban area. The U.S. Census Bureau defines an urban area as a place with a population of 2,500 people or more. Currently, they are proposing to revise the urban area definitions for the 2020 Census.1 Urbanization has been a long-running trend within the state. This trend is likely to continue in the future. This paper analyzes Minnesota’s growing population, how population trends have diverged across rural and urban portions of the state, and the impacts these trends have on transportation.

In 2010, Minnesota’s population was almost 5.3 million people and 73% lived in an urban area. Urban areas have been growing faster compared to rural areas. By 2016, more than 80% of Minnesota’s population lived in urban areas. Urban area populations have consistently shown strong population growth. This trend has been steady for over 100 years. However, since 1960, Minnesota’s population living in rural areas have largely remained flat. Minnesota state demographic projections show this continuing through at least 2040. In 2040, the state’s population is expected to reach over six million people.

The seven-county metro area has been the biggest driver of urban area population growth. In 1950, the seven-county metro area made up 30% of the state’s population. As of 2020, the seven-county metro area is projected to make up 63% of the state’s population—more than doubling the metro area’s proportion of the population in 70 years. Strong growth in the area is expected to continue through 2040 with Scott County expected to grow at a rate above 30%. In nominal terms, more than 350,000 additional people are expected to call the seven-county metro area home by 2040 compared to 2020. More than 70% of the state’s population growth is projected to be in the seven-county metro area over the next 20 years.

While large- and medium-sized urban areas have been the leading driver of population growth in Minnesota, many rural communities and a few cities have had either stable or declining populations. From 2000 through 2010, many rural counties in southwest and northern Minnesota lost population. This includes St. Louis County and Duluth, which until recently was losing population due to the loss of industrial jobs. Many counties that lost population over the last two decades are expected to reverse this trend moving forward. However, approximately half of all Minnesota counties, predominately rural counties, are projected to continue losing population through 2050.2

1. Sheleen Dumas, “Urban Areas for the 2020 Census-Proposed Criteria,” Federal Register, February 16, 2021, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/02/19/2021-03412/urban-areas-for-the-2020-census-proposed-criteria.
2. "Long-Term Population Projections for Minnesota,” (Minnesota State Demographic Center, 2020).

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