For Midwest, population growth will be a greater demographic, policy challenge in years ahead

The story of outmigration from the Midwest to other parts of the country is as old as the advent and widespread use of home air conditioning. So the most recent federal data on trends in domestic migration among states is not surprising: net gains for the South and West at the expense of the nation’s two other regions.

“The Midwest and Northeast are at a terrible disadvantage because of the weather; it’s not a level playing field,” says Wendell Cox, principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. 
Other oft-cited reasons for these long-term trends include the decline in manufacturing employment, improvements in other regions’ transportation infrastructure, and company relocations due to lower labor costs or more favorable business regulations.
But sometimes lost in the outmigration narrative is the fact that Midwestern states have still been able to gain in population because of two other factors: more births than deaths (referred to as “natural increases”), and the influx of arrivals from other countries.
In the U.S. Census Bureau data showing population trends between 2010 and 2015, only two states in the Midwest — South Dakota and North Dakota — had net gains in domestic migration. And five of the 10 states with the largest population losses due to movement within the United States were Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas and Wisconsin.
Yet every Midwestern state gained in total population during the first five years of this decade, anywhere from a rate of 12.5 percent in North Dakota (highest percentage increase in the nation) to 0.2 percent in Illinois (fourth-lowest in the nation). 
According to Cox, adding population is critical to the growth of regional and state economies. And for state policymakers in the Midwest, some problematic trends appear to lie ahead. The Minnesota State Demographic Center outlined these challenges last year in a study for the state Legislature.
“By the early 2040s, if our state is to experience any population growth at all, it will necessarily be from migration,” the report’s researchers conclude.
That is because the number of deaths in Minnesota is expected to begin outpacing the number of births within the next three decades as the baby-boomer generation gets older and older. (Today, in Minnesota and every other Midwestern state, the number of births eclipses the number of deaths.)
The state, meanwhile, will also have to deal with a major upheaval in its labor market: “Over the next 15 years, Minnesota will see more people moving out of the workforce and into retirement than in the last six decades combined.”
The North Star State’s demographic projections are far from unique, but rather emblematic of what is likely to occur in many parts of the Midwest. Nationwide, in fact, the number of people 65 and older is expected to increase by more than 70 percent between 2015 and 2040; in contrast, the rise in 18- to 64-year-olds will be less than 10 percent.
This will make trends in domestic migration of even greater interest to states, especially since much of this movement involves young people. Minnesota researchers found, for example, that two-thirds of the state’s domestic net losses could be attributed to individuals moving away for postsecondary school.
“The numbers returning [after completing school] are far less than those exiting Minnesota during their college years,” the study found.
There is a incentive for states, then, to not only keep their own college-bound students, but also to attract those from out of state. Earlier this spring, for example, the South Dakota Board of Regents approved a plan to extend in-state tuition to students from Iowa.
Will these types of policies become more commonplace as states compete to land young people? Will states seek new ways to become destinations for international arrivals? Because of the demographic pressures ahead, the answers to both these questions might very well be “yes.”
Stateline Midwest: June/July 0162.51 MB