Is it real? State of Rural Minnesota 2023

New population data confirms the migration pattern we thought was happening


By Kelly Asche, Senior Research Associate

January 2023

Every year the Center for Rural Policy and Development publishes the “State of Rural Minnesota,” a report outlining the demographic and economic trends in Minnesota using the most recent data available. Typically, the report only needs minor tweaking as the trends slowly change slowly.

But sometimes there’s a remarkable event that causes significant disruptions. The pandemic was exactly one of those events.

One of the disruptions that people have been discussing anecdotally is the increasing interest in living in rural Minnesota. Real estate agents, community and economic developers, and other rural leaders have been expressing that they feel there’s a shift in migration going on—a shift from urban areas to rural areas. Such a shift would be a significant deviation from the norm. The trends over the last 30 years have been just the opposite—a migration of residents from rural areas to the state’s population centers, especially the Twin Cities.

Well, the data is in (finally), and it confirms what many people in rural Minnesota have been seeing and feeling—a significant shift has taken place in migration patterns. Figure 1 shows that between 2010 and 2019 our entirely rural areas lost on average 276 people per year. However, between 2020 and 2021, that completely changed, and entirely rural counties gained 518 people due to migration. The same shift appears for our town/rural mix counties – they lost an average of 967 people a year between 2010 and 2019 but gained 2,622 people due to migration in the one year between 2020 and 2021. The urban/town/rural county group went from an average annual gain of 205 people to a gain of 5,574 in the one year between 2020 and 2021. Most surprising is our entirely urban counties. Whereas they were gaining on average over 10,000 people a year between 2010 and 2019, they lost 18,125 residents between 2020 and 2021 due to migration.

Figure 1: Between 2020 and 2021, the annual population change due to migration deviated significantly from the previous trends. Data: U.S.Census Bureau – Population Estimates Components of Change


But it wasn’t this way for all entirely urban counties. The loss was mostly felt in the seven county metro, not necessarily in the urban areas in Greater Minnesota. The chart below provides the same data but splits up our entirely urban counties into two groups: entirely urban counties in Greater Minnesota—counties with the largest population centers—and the seven-county Twin Cities metro. The chart shows that the Twin Cities metro took the brunt of the loss due to migration—between 2020 and 2021, 19,764 residents left the region, compared to gaining nearly 10,000 annually between 2010 and 2019. On the other hand, Greater Minnesota’s population centers continued to grow, gaining more than 1,600 residents in 2020-2021, compared to an annual average of 1,100 previously.

Figure 2: The Twin Cities metro was responsible for population loss in the state’s entirely urban counties group, as opposed to the urban counties in Greater Minnesota, which continued to grow. Data: U.S. Census Bureau – Population Estimates Components of Change


This sudden shift in migration can be due to a lot of things—the pandemic, housing prices, perceptions about crime, as well as college students choosing to take courses online instead of migrating to urban colleges. Time will tell if these trends hold or if they will go back to pre-pandemic patterns. In the meantime, rest assured that what you think you’ve been seeing and feeling in your community is real: the data backs it up.

The State of Rural 2023 report will be released in the coming weeks. Be sure to tune in to read the report, listen to the podcast, and watch a webinar discussing the findings.