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July, 2013

Immigration in Minnesota: 5 things you should know


Craig Helmstetter

While Minnesota still has proportionally fewer immigrants than the U.S. as a whole (7% compared with 13% nationally), the state’s foreign-born population is actually increasing faster than the national average—in Minnesota, it has tripled since 1990, but only doubled nationally.

Former Compass project manager Craig Helmstetter points out 5 things Minnesotans should know about this growing population.

1. Minnesota’s immigrant population is different from the U.S. as a whole.

Over half of all immigrants nationally are from Latin America, including Mexico. In Minnesota, less than a third of the immigrant population is from Latin America. Nationally only 4 percent of the immigrant population is from Africa. Here that figure is 20 percent.

While the Twin Cities area remains the most common destination for immigrants, the foreign-born population is growing throughout the state and looks very different in each region.

On top of that is the fact that immigrants in Minnesota are much more likely to be refugees fleeing war-torn countries than are immigrants in most other states.

2. As a group, immigrants are younger.

If you plot on a graph the number of people in each age category by 5-year increments by nativity, you will see a very obvious bulge among the native-born population, representing the baby boom generation. That bulge does not exist, however, for the state’s immigrant population, whose median age is somewhere in the low 30s. That has big implications for our currentand futureworkforce.

3. Some immigrants are highly educated (others are not).

It may not surprise you that a higher proportion of Minnesota’s native-born population has a high school diploma than does our immigrant population (94% compared with 73%). It may, however, surprise some of you that advanced degrees are slightly more common among the state’s immigrant population than the native-born population (14% and 10%, respectively).

4. Most immigrants are employed, especially those who have been here 5 or more years.

The best comparative data that we have on workforce participation lags current market conditions by a few years, but it is still telling. According to census data collected from 2008-2010, about 70 percent of the local immigrant population age 16 to 64 was working for paynot far off the 75 percent reported for Minnesota's native-born population during that same time period. 

What’s more, the overall rate of immigrant employment is pulled down a bit by the lower rate of the most recent immigrants; the workforce participation for those who have been here fewer than 5 years is 56 percent. Those who’ve been here longer have a workforce participation rate that is slightly higher79 percent than the overall native-born population. Of course this does not mean that everyone is working in the jobs that they would like, or that our local economy is taking full advantage of the skills available among the immigrant workforcebut the same could be said for at least some of the native-born population.

5. Workforce participation rates vary considerably by specific immigrant group.

Almost by definition immigrants are a diverse group. Also push and pull factors lead to waves of immigrants at different times and with different skill sets. A snapshot of the largest immigrant groups in Minnesota shows workforce participation rates varying from highs of over 75 percent for those born in India, Liberia, and Vietnam to a low of 48 percent for the most recent of the larger immigration populations, Somali immigrants. Differences by gender are also dramatic.

Craig Helmstetter is a fourth generation descendant of German and Norwegian immigrants. He is also the former project manager of Minnesota Compass.

A new age of immigrants

This report from Wilder Research was commissioned by The Minneapolis Foundation to help promote constructive dialogue on the issue of immigration in Minnesota. It lays out immigration facts and poses unanswered questions.

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%.