Minneapolis population stagnant, but indicators point to revival

Share this:
April 11, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Minneapolis gained 40 residents over the last 10 years while the state population grew by nearly 8 percent, according to recently released U.S. Census statistics that will be used to re-draw political districts.

The numbers have implications, good and bad, for the city.

The bad news is Minneapolis will likely lose political clout as population gains in the “exurbs” give those people more representation at the cost of the city.

The good news is that the city’s rapid population loss in the 1960s and 1970s has all but stopped, and recent trends suggest that Minneapolis may get a population boost from retired couples wanting to move back into the metro core, said State Demographer Tom Gillaspy.

“My guess is there’s going to be increased pressure to move back to the center,” Gillaspy said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean Minneapolis and St. Paul, but for some people it will.”

City and state officials have spent the last couple weeks digging through the numbers in order to provide officials the data they need to re-draw political boundaries.

They’re also beginning to examine the data in order to better understand communities and the services they need.

“It affects all kinds of things the city does — how we assign city resources, how different districts are organized, where the needs are,” said Jeff Schneider, manager of special projects and research for the city of Minneapolis.


Minneapolis and its future


The 1950 U.S. Census pegged the Minneapolis population at 522,000. In the decades that followed, residents migrated to the suburbs. The city lost 50,000 people, on average, in the each of the following three decades and the population dropped to 371,000 in 1980.  

The population has mostly stagnated since then, and Minneapolis now has 382,578 residents.

“If you went back to the ’80s and early ’90s and said this would happen, there would have been a lot of people really happy,” Gillaspy said of zero population growth in the city.

In fact, Gillaspy said, heavy population declines have ended in Minneapolis and now moved to the “inner-ring suburbs,” — those closest to Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Gillaspy said he expects the Twin Cities will be part of an overall national trend once housing and job markets improve. That is, suburban empty nesters will move inward in search of better access to services, lower maintenance and nearby health care. They won’t be concerned with the quality of schools because their children will be grown up.

He said that will mean migration back to the city and inner-ring suburbs, but not continued outward expansion, as has been the trend.  


A changing political landscape


Depending on how you look at it, Minneapolis has 10-and-a-half state representatives and five state senators.

When the Minnesota Legislature re-draws political boundaries, Minnesota will still have 134 state representatives and 67 senators. Minneapolis, however, is unlikely to maintain the size of its delegation.

For example: Based on Census results, Joe Mullery’s House District 58A in North Minneapolis should have about 39,500 residents, but it is currently only home to 32,900 residents.

Gillaspy said that could mean less Minneapolis legislators, or that residents will have to share legislators with neighboring suburbs.

“The inner cities and inner-ring suburbs will lose legislative representation, relatively,” he said. “Rural Minnesota will also lose representation, and we’ll have an increasingly suburban Legislature. What exactly that looks like we don’t know. It’s what the Legislature comes up with.”

The last several redistricting attempts by the Legislature have wound up in the courts because the Legislature’s maps were challenged.

The Minneapolis City Council, on the other hand, hopes its redistricting process will not have to be decided by judges as it did after the 2000 Census.

Previously, a panel of residents appointed by City Council members and political parties re-drew City Council wards following Census results. That included Republicans and Independents but not the Green Party, even though the city had two Green City Council members.

The City Council last year gave redistricting power instead to the Minneapolis Charter Commission, a group of people appointed to their posts by the chief judge of Hennepin County.

The chairman of that commission, Barry Clegg, said the commission will draft a map of new City Council wards once it gets detailed data from the city. The city is in the process of analyzing data that tells them how many people are living in each of the 13 wards.  

“No one gets excited about this until there’s a draft map that they can look at, and then everybody can get excited about it,” he said.

That’s because the map could have political implications. It could change boundaries that put a current City Council member in the same ward as another City Council member.

Clegg said there are some basic guidelines for the Charter Commission. The 13 wards must have populations within 5 percent of 29,400 people. The wards can’t be twice as long as they are wide. They can’t break in half a minority population so as to divide their power to elect a minority candidate.

Beyond that, it’s up to the commissioners to judge where the lines are drawn.

“We try to keep logical boundaries, like to the river or the freeway,” Clegg said. “We try and keep constituencies of interest together to the extend that that’s possible.”

Schneider said city staff does not yet what parts of the city have increased and which have decreased in population. Gillaspy said North Minneapolis suffered through lots of housing issues and foreclosures in the 2000s, so it might have the biggest population declines.

The Legislature is required to complete its redistricting by mid-February, and once it is done the city has 60 days to finish its own re-drawing of district boundaries.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.