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Study: Midwest metro workforces would be shrinking if not for immigrants

FARGO – Midwestern metro areas are receiving a crucial workforce boost from younger immigrants as native-born workers age, a new study shows.

In the 35- to 44-year-old age group, the native-born Midwestern population has declined 20.6 percent while the same age group among immigrants has increased 44.2 percent, according to a study from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that analyzed Midwestern metro areas from 2000 to 2010. 

“This age group is critical because they are in their prime working and taxpaying years,” the study’s authors wrote.

At the same time, the native-born 55- to 64-year-old age group rose by 49.6 percent, which could put a strain on the tax and retirement systems without a younger population to support it, the study said.

The rising number of younger immigrants may ease that strain.

The study, released in June as part of the Chicago Council’s Immigration Initiative, considered 71 Midwestern metro areas, including Fargo, using U.S. Census and American Community Survey data.

It found overall population growth rates are low and would be significantly lower if not for immigration.

Kevin Iverson, manager at the North Dakota Census Office, said migration has been crucial to growth in North Dakota.

“In the last couple of years, the vast majority of our population gains have been the result of migration into the state,” he said.

Iverson said gains were largely due to in-migration – the movement of people from other U.S. states into North Dakota.

Since 2010, Cass County has seen a dramatic population increase, and in-migration has been the biggest contributor.

Cass County saw 13,051 new residents between 2010 and 2013, Census estimates show. Of those, 51.8 percent were domestic migrants and 12.7 percent were international migrants. The remaining 35 percent growth came from the region itself.

But the Chicago Council study looked beyond general figures and at particular age groups in Midwest metro areas.

For native-born residents, it found a decrease in the number of 0- to 17-year-olds and 25- to 44-year-olds, while the number of those 45 years old and over increased.

Only 18- to 24-year-old natives bucked the trend of aging Midwest metro areas, increasing 7.2 percent during those 10 years.

“We have a lot of people in our 50s and again in our 20s,” Iverson said, echoing the study’s findings.

That leaves a gap in the 35- to 44-year-old age group – a potential problem being solved by immigration, according to the study.

In Fargo, native-born 35- to 44-year-olds decreased 6.6 percent while immigrants in the same age group increased 169.2 percent, the study shows, supporting the notion that “immigration plays an especially important role in offsetting the Midwest population decline of younger age groups.”

The study used Cass County to define the Fargo metro area; Clay County was not included.

In some metro areas like Duluth, Minn., immigration prevented an overall population decline. In Davenport, IA, the native-born population declined by over a thousand but was counteracted by a larger increase in immigrants.

As migration is shaping North Dakota’s demographic landscape amid an oil boom, Iverson said the state is getting younger, and fast.

Though other Midwestern regions may have to deal with older populations, North Dakota may be the exception, he said.

“We’re not the typical state,” he pointed out.

Adrian Glass-Moore

Readers are encouraged to reach Adrian Glass-Moore at (701) 241-5599 or with comments, criticisms and tips. He joined The Forum as its night reporter in 2014.