This is the final installment in an editorial series called The Changing Face of Minnesota. This year, the ECM Publishers Editorial Board examined demographic changes and disparities in Minnesota that center around race, wealth, age, region and employment.

Minnesota’s face is changing and it is changing fast. Our ECM Editorial Board has looked at the issues and opportunities these changes will create for our future selves over the course of the past year.

We’ve seen our stereotypical Scandinavian and European white face change to include many colors. By the end of the 20th Century, we saw large numbers of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong, Chinese, Hispanic, African and Middle Eastern people settle in various parts of the state.

Race isn’t the only thing changing among us. Our state is aging at a rapid rate. Five years ago, 13 percent of our population was 65 years or older – 2015 numbers say that has grown to 15 percent. By 2040, the percentage of people over 65 is estimated to be 20 percent.

Disparities are growing. The divide between rich and poor is getting larger. The median family income in Minnesota is $61,492, yet 10.2 percent of our people live in poverty.

The face of the Minnesota worker is changing. Despite the unemployment rate sitting at a long-time low of 3.1 percent, all is not rosy throughout the state. Unemployment in logging and mining is almost 8 percent. The unemployment rate among black/African Americans is almost 9 percent. At the same time, businesses are hungry for skilled workers throughout manufacturing and other industries.

Our changing face is also obvious in our school systems. Anoka-Hennepin School District reports that its students speak 89 languages. Some schools have large percentages of students who struggle with English. The achievement gap continues to grow.

We have urged the following action to address the many faces we see around us:

Regarding jobs and employment, we said this is no time for government to skimp on higher education, early education with targeted scholarships for at-risk toddlers, skills training, health care, child-care assistance and programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit that make climbing the ladder of a changing, competitive economy a little easier.

We also said: “Too many minorities with post-secondary degrees, particularly blacks, wind up in temporary jobs or other low-wage work, which depresses their earnings as a group. But when blacks are able to find jobs in industries related to their majors, wage disparities disappear.”

“People of color comprise 24 percent of the Twin Cities region’s working-age population; their ranks are projected to grow to 50 percent by 2050. Without a virtuous cycle of inclusive education, training, recruitment, employment and advancement, Minnesota’s economy will fall short of its potential.”

When we looked at the aging face of Minnesota, we agreed increased pressure would be placed on public services as our population ages. And all of it will be occurring as fewer workers are attempting to support those programs. Our greatest tool in a framework for preparation is education.

“Clearly there are challenges with an aging population, but there is also great hope of what can be achieved. It starts by recognizing and nurturing the tremendous potential in all Minnesotans no matter what their age might be.”

As for the divide that seems to exist between rural and urban Minnesota, we looked at the reasons for unity. “There is real opportunity in these areas — it just needs an innovative mindset and a willingness to welcome change. There’s no question Minnesota is a diverse state with regional and local challenges. Like the rest of our country, Minnesotans need to find ways to solve the two realities of our state in a fair and balanced manner. One cannot thrive at the expense of the other.”

We will do future generations a great service by acknowledging these changes today and begin to plan and prepare for tomorrow. Increasing the awareness and decreasing the disparities should be key to our action plan. We are only as strong as our weakest link. We need to help those in poverty rise up to a functioning level. We need to work hand-in-hand with our state’s business community for a full and active workforce.

While the face of tomorrow’s Minnesota will be very different than our stereotypes, it can be one that is prosperous and rewarding for all.

– An opinion of the ECM Publishers Editorial Board.

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