Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau released data from five years' worth of American Community Survey responses, shedding fresh light on demographic, economic and housing-related trends in counties and other small geographic areas.

We thought we'd pull out data on three topics that demographers pay close attention to -- aging, diversity and poverty -- in counties in Minnesota, and neighboring states: Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. For shorthand, we'll call this the Upper Midwest (although sometimes this term includes Michigan and Illinois).

1. Rural areas show some of the biggest growth in diversity

Over the past decade, the two counties in the Upper Midwest with the largest increases in racial diversity are both in rural areas, and both home to meat packing plants and livestock farms. These jobs have attracted primarily Latinos, but also other people of color.

Nobles County, Minn., led the way with a 14 percentage point jump in the share of minorities (either Latino or in a racial group other than white). Close behind was Beadle County, S.D., where 7 percent of the population were people of color a decade ago. Last year, it reached 20 percent.

Overall, about 17 percent of people in the Upper Midwest are minorities, up from about 13 percent a decade ago. Most of that growth, however, has been concentrated in a couple dozen counties. In Minnesota, that includes Nobles, Mahnomen, Ramsey, Mower, Kandiyohi and Hennepin counties.

In Minnesota, Mahnomen County’s population is now “majority-minority,” with 53 percent of the population being people of color. That’s up 10 percentage points from 2009. Nobles County, at 39 percent, and Ramsey County, at 36 percent, are the next most diverse in the state.

Click on any county in the map to get more details.

2. Counties with lower populations are aging faster

Minnesota and its neighboring states have younger populations compared to some other regions of the U.S. Except for North Dakota, the other Upper Midwest states fall mostly in the middle of the pack, similar to the national median age of about 38 years. Several New England states, for example, have a median age that is 4 to 6 years older.

North Dakota has among the lowest median ages in the country at 35, and it has been falling in recent years, probably due to young workers flocking to oil field jobs.

But if you look more closely at the Upper Midwest, there are pockets of counties with higher median ages and higher concentrations of people age 65 and older. Most of these counties are among the least populous, located away from metropolitan areas.

For example, in the southwestern corner of North Dakota, you'll find Slope County. Its population of just over 600 people means the density is less than 1 person per square mile. Nearly one-quarter of them are age 65 and older, and that's 7 percentage points higher than about a decade ago.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Minnesota's Scott County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the area. Just 9 percent of the population is age 65 and older, one of the lowest rates in the Upper Midwest.

Like most counties, Scott County's share of older residents ticked up three percentage points this past decade. But that's minimal compared to places such as Slope County, N.D., Jones County, S.D., Florence County, Wis., and Cook County, Minn., that had some of the highest increases in the region.

People having fewer babies and living longer are among the biggest drivers of the aging population, but it's also affected by the Baby Boom generation moving into retirement age.

Higher concentrations of older people in sparsely populated rural areas raises concerns about whether there are resources and younger workers to take care of them.

Click on any county in the map to get more details. 

3. Pockets of poverty unchanged by economic recovery

In a dozen counties, mostly in South Dakota and North Dakota, more than one-third of the people live below the federal poverty line. All have large American Indian populations and poverty rates have either been flat or gotten worse in recent years.

In Mellette County, S.D., for example, about 46 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line. In 2009, the American Community Survey estimated that 27 percent were in poverty. 

In Minnesota, the county with the highest poverty rate is Mahnomen, estimated at 22 percent, up a couple percentage points in the last decade.

To be sure, the federal poverty guidelines -- currently about $28,000 in annual income for a family of four -- are widely considered to underestimate the number of people struggling economically. 

Poverty levels in Ramsey and Hennepin counties also remain fairly unchanged, at 16 percent and 12 percent, respectively. The map below shows how those two counties are essentially an island, surrounded by suburban counties with some of the lowest poverty levels in the Upper Midwest.

Click on any county in the map to get more details.

Data Drop is a weekly feature that uses data analysis and visualizations to explain, surprise, inform and entertain readers on topics relevant to Minnesotans. Do you have an idea you'd like us to explore? Contact MaryJo Webster