Deaths and births in Minnesota. Where are they?

People are dying faster than they’re being born in more than a third of Minnesota’s 87 counties now. You may have seen the national analysis of census numbers last week showing “natural” increases and decreases in population, but a look at the trends in Minnesota provides a few interesting lessons.

As you might expect, Minnesota’s “natural decrease” — more deaths than births in the year ending July 1, 2012 — is taking place in rural areas, mainly northeastern Minnesota and along the western and southern flanks of the state.

But some of the counties in those tiers run counter to the larger trend, and one explanation seems to be immigration. Nobles, Watonwan, Kandiyohi and Todd counties all have experienced substantial Latino growth over the past two decades and all are now experiencing more births than deaths while their whiter neighbors see the reverse.

Kenneth Johnson, the University of New Hampshire sociology professor who has chronicled the growing number of places that experience natural population decreases, said the notion that immigration is causing natural population increases sounded plausible in those counties. An influx of immigrants over the years “tends to increase the number of births in the county while having little impact on the mortality rates,” he said in an email.

It rings true to Jennifer Weg, chief nursing officer at Sanford Worthington Medical Center, the only hospital in Nobles County. The number of births has been steady for years, she said, but increasingly those babies are Latino, Karen or east African.

And apparently there are others who think that trend will continue. Worthington has four ob/gyn doctors, two midwives and five pediatricians. “That’s pretty great for a rural community,” Weg said.

This doesn’t mean the populations of those areas are growing, of course. People are still migrating away from much of rural Minnesota, including those four counties. Watonwan and Todd lost population in spite of their natural increase, for example.

In fact, the other interesting thing to do with the latest numbers is divide Minnesota counties into four categories: those gaining population both through migration and natural increase, those losing population both ways, those gaining via natural increase but losing through out-migration and those losing population by natural decrease but gaining via in-migration.

Here’s how that looks:

Blue – Natural increase and in-migration. Mostly an urban phenomenon in Minnesota, concentrated in the Twin Cities and in the Mankato and Winona areas.

Green – Natural increase but out-migration. Rural areas close to the Twin Cities and parts of northern Minnesota.

Yellow – Natural decrease but in-migration. Vacation and retiree-land in northern Minnesota.

Red – Natural decrease and out-migration. Mostly rural areas farthest from the Twin Cities.

In the red and yellow areas, deaths outnumber births, an indication of few young adults of child-bearing age. Nationally this is becoming more prevalent among rural counties.In fact there are two whole states where this is true — Maine and West Virginia.

The blue and yellow areas are drawing new residents irrespective of deaths and births.Clearly this is an urban and vacation-retiree phenomenon.

This is more than just a numbers exercise. As Johnson has pointed out in the past, areas with more deaths than births gradually can see their schools lose viability, their medical facility services diminish and their employment force decline. Political clout shrinks, as well, he said.

Some of the numbers in Minnesota’s counties are small, but Johnson says once an area starts to see a natural decline, it typically continues. But, as the apparent impact of immigration in some Minnesota counties shows, it’s not ordained.

Here’s a national map of the numbers that the Daily Yonder put up Tuesday.