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

Working-age adults, 1960-2010, Today, and by 2025

Age trends are transforming Minnesota

In the coming years, Minnesota’s older adult population should continue to grow as our working-age population appears to be leveling off. As a result, the ratio of working-age adults to older adults will continue to shrink over the coming decade. Potential implications are widespread, from housing and transportation needs in aging communities, to demands on the workforce as baby boomers continue to retire.


Learn more about the retirement- to working-age ratio.

Data Update

Minnesota is home to 267,000 children of immigrants. In other words, more than 1 in 6 kids statewide is the child of an immigrant.

Statewide, our school-aged population still outnumbers our older adult population. But this is not the case in all regions of the state. Older adults already outnumber school-aged kids in the Northland, Northwest, Southern, Southwest, and West Central regions.

Statewide, there are four working-age adults for every one older adult, down from five-to-one in 2010. The ratio is even smaller in some Minnesota regions. There are three working-age adults for every older adult in the Northland, Northwest, Southwest, and West Central regions of the state.

Minnesota’s economic output, or gross domestic product (GDP), stands at $331.4 billion. 2018 marks the ninth straight year of year-over-year increases in Minnesota’s GDP.