Minnesota faces a growing gap between its need for workers and the supply of them, and could start addressing the problem by figuring out a way to hang on to the foreign students who now must leave the country when their visas expire.

That’s the message of a new report from State Demographer Susan Brower, aimed at lawmakers for the 2014 legislative session.

Brower and her staff paint a stark picture of the shortfall the state can expect as baby boomers retire in greater numbers.

The surplus we now enjoy of births over deaths “will fall dramatically,” she adds, “making the role of migration far more important.”

Nor can we expect arrivals from other states to bail us out, if recent experience is any guide.

“In recent years, state-to-state movement has been draining labor resources rather than adding them to our state. … Netted out, Minnesota loses about 12,000 working-age residents per year.

“It is only because of additional flows of about 20,000 international migrants … that Minnesota experiences positive total migration of about 8,000 working-age people annually.”

Although it’s difficult to fathom when some people can’t find enough work, demographers stress that the mass departures of boomers is about to create a huge vacuum. Says the report:

“Minnesota stands at a unique point in its history, where the demographic trends of an aging population and declining fertility are conspiring to dramatically slow its labor force growth, threatening to put a drag on our economic output. In the coming decades, greater numbers of migrants, both domestic and international, will be necessary … to buttress economic activity.”

We face a gap of first tens and then hundreds of thousands of workers in decades to come.

The forces at work are difficult to change, it adds, but one fix suggests itself: Work to make it easier to keep foreign students we educate, who now are obliged to leave.

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