Measuring progress. Inspiring action.

For discussion

February 2012

By Craig Helmstetter and Paul Mattessich, Wilder Research and Minnesota Compass

Craig HelmstetterSuper Bowl victors come and go every 12 months. Can you even remember who won a few weeks ago, or last year? However, training and play execution for a prosperous Minnesota require 365 days of attention. Can we win at that game?

What might the ESPN-like pundits observe, were they to gauge the likelihood of a Minnesota victory in this global economy? Where does our General Manager (aka all of us who care about the state) need to focus attention?

Paul Mattessich(1) Less reliance on our veteran players
Minnesota is getting older. Over the next 20 years, Minnesota will change from a state with 5 working-age adults for every retirement-aged person to one with only 3 working age adults (and primary taxpayers) for every retirement-aged person.
Baby boomers currently hold many of the leadership positions in our state, and we will need to “recruit” or “trade” to replace their skills as they leave our workforce – and to support those folks in their golden years. How will we accomplish that?
(2) Improve our conditioning
One-fourth of our team is obese. Our conditioning must improve, to keep us in the game. If it does not, we risk placing even more people on injured reserve; seven percent of the adults in our state already have diabetes, and that number is on the rise.
How do we stop obesity from gaining ground? Well, here’s a defense that the offense will have a hard time reading: send more people to college. College-educated adults have markedly lower rates of both obesity and diabetes.
(3) Strengthen our bench
About 25 percent of the children in our state are children of color. So, in the coming decades, at least 25 percent of our team – the future workforce, future parents, future community leaders – will be people of color. The educational achievement gap between white students and students of color depletes our bench strength. That is, about 85 percent of white 3rd graders meet state reading standards, while only 60 percent of third graders of color perform at that level.
Minnesota needs to “strengthen our bench” in order to make sure that all players on the team are good or even great. Some might try to make a different argument – for example that it is most important to recruit “star players” or focus narrowly on pushing for the excellence of the few, who will then bring everyone else’s game up a level. But that is an unproven strategy. Just ask Adrian Peterson.
(4) Work hard to regain our momentum
Sports fans, just like political-primary watchers, know that momentum is supreme. Once you have momentum, it tends to build on itself – and once you start to lose it, it is not easy to regain.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s economy has lost momentum in recent years. In inflation-controlled dollars the state’s median household income (the amount earned by all earners in a single household) has fallen by 10 percent from $62,000 in 2000 to $55,000 in 2010. Employment has dropped. Too many people pay too much of their income for housing. We still rank above most of the league (read: other states) on all of these stats, but our competitive edge has changed from “much better” than the league average to something closer to average.
(5) Coordinate the game plan
Perhaps our toughest challenge: simultaneous execution at a high level on several different elements of the game. A fumble in one area, too many penalties in another, and soon you are not even competing. For example, in addition to fighting obesity and closing the K-12 achievement gap, we need to maintain the excellence of our post-secondary education system. Higher education can help ensure the state’s supply of higher level skills required for leadership and technical capacity in a 21st century economy, as well as the knowledge and creativity that supports innovation and entrepreneurship.
Coordinating an effective game plan also requires close attention to the clock and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of all the players on the field. Our own project, Minnesota Compass has a role to play, as do other sources of credible, unbiased information in our state.
Positioning our state for prosperity requires all of this and more. Minnesota can’t afford to count on a last-second field goal.

This commentary grows directly out of a presentation given at the 2012 Minnesota Compass Annual Meeting, held on February 2nd.


Featured trend

Percentage of Minnesota adults age 25 or older with a bachelor's degree

Educational attainment among Minnesota’s adults continues to rise

Minnesota ranks among the 10 states with the highest shares of college-educated adults. Today, 37% of adults in Minnesota have a bachelor’s degree or higher, an increase of almost 10 percentage points since 2000.

See our educational attainment key measure for more on this topic.


Data Update


There are 20 counties in Minnesota in which at least one in five young children (age 0-5) lives in poverty

Foreign-born populations continue to grow as a proportion of the overall population, making up 9% of Minnesota’s population, up from 7% in 2010.

Approximately 38% of householders of color pay too much for housing.

The ratio of retirement-age adults (65+) to working-age adults (16-64) increased in 60 Minnesota cities, signaling disproportionate growth in the number of older adults compared to the working-age population.

Between 2016 and 2019, the share of Minnesota students who report being highly engaged in enrichment activities fell from 65% to nearly 60%.