Lyon County’s demographic characteristics are very similar to the state’s, which is the exception in the region. Most of the counties in Southwest Minnesota have much older populations than the state of Minnesota, with as much as 20 percent of the population aged 65 years and over. But as a regional employment center with a stable population and a four-year university, Lyon County actually had a slightly higher percentage of the population under 24 years of age than the state. About a third (33.9%) of Minnesota’s population was 24 years or younger, as compared to 36.4 percent in Lyon County, thanks in large part to the student population at Southwest Minnesota State University. On the other end of the age spectrum, Lyon County also had a slightly higher percentage of senior citizens, with 14.5 percent of the population aged 65 years and over, including 8 percent that were 75 years and over. In comparison, about 12.7 percent of the state’s population was 65 years and over. See Table 2-2.
While Lyon County’s population is 94.8 percent white, the county saw significant changes in most race and origin categories, including rapid growth in Black or African American residents and persons of Hispanic or Latino origin. The number of Hispanic people increased 48.7 percent from 2000 to 2009, and the number of Black or African Americans increased 34.1 percent. Still, through 2009, only about 6.0 percent of Lyon County’s residents were of Hispanic or Latino origin, 2.0 percent were Asian, and 1.8 percent were Black or African American.
Lyon County’s population has also benefited from an increase in births and longer life expectancies. According to the State Demographic Center, Lyon County had more births (1,632) than deaths (1,165) from 2000 to 2005, meaning the county has a positive natural increase. The number of births in Lyon County hovered between 290 and 390 each year from 2000 to 2007, with a peak of 382 births in 2006. However, Lyon County averaged about 633 births per year from 1950 to 1957.
Population projections from the Minnesota State Demographic Center believe Lyon County’s population will remain steady over time, ending 2030 about the same size as in 2010. However, different age groups are expected to see different changes. Again, Lyon County is expected to keep a slightly younger population than the state, with an 8.7 percent growth rate for children aged 0 to 14 years; as well as a slightly older population, with an expected 45.9 percent jump in senior citizens from 2010 to 2030. As the Baby Boom generation moves through the population pyramid, more than one in every five people (21.2%) in Lyon County could be 65 years and over. In comparison, about 20.6 percent of the state’s population is expected to be 65 years and over.
The challenge for Lyon County – and the rest of Southwest Minnesota – will be in the prime working years, where significant declines are projected. The student and entry-level workforce, aged 15 to 24, is expected to fall nearly 9 percent in Lyon County from 2010 to 2030, despite the presence of a four-year university. The 25 to 34 year old age group is projected to decline almost 10 percent over the next two decades, which further fuels the argument about "brain drain." One bright spot: a 6 percent growth and a continuation of the "Rural Rebound" uncovered by Ben Winchester of the University of Minnesota, where rural regions have experienced an influx of 35 to 44 year olds, who often bring their school aged children with them. The effects of the Baby Boom generation can also be seen in the declines in the 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 year old age groups, as those are currently among the largest age groups but will watch those people ease into retirement age in the next two decades. See Figure 2-2.
Six of the 31 cities and townships in Lyon County were expected to see population increases between 2010 and 2030, ranging from a small gain in the city of Taunton to a net growth of 655 people in the city of Marshall. If Marshall experienced the projected 5.1 percent growth rate, it would have nearly 13,500 people by 2030. Ghent, Tracy, Lynd, and Cottonwood were also expected to see steady population gains, while the biggest declines were projected for Balaton, Custer township, Rock Lake township, Vallers township, and Westerheim township.