Earlier this month, we learned the distressing (but not surprising) news that poverty is increasing and median household income is declining in Minnesota. The U.S. Census is out with another report showing even worse news. Minnesota has an unfortunate history of racial disparities, with communities of color experiencing worse economic outcomes than their white counterparts. Thursday’s release of the American Community Survey (ACS) reveals that racial disparities in the state continue to grow.
In 2010, 11.6 percent of Minnesotans were living in poverty, up significantly from 9.5 percent in 2007 (just before the last recession). This overall number hides the much deeper levels of poverty within Minnesota’s communities of color. In 2010, 17.8 percent of Asians were living in poverty, as were 24.4 percent of Latinos and 37.2 percent of blacks. Although poverty among white non-Hispanic Minnesotans increased from 7.1 percent in 2007 to 8.4 percent in 2010, poverty among American Indians increased from 30.7 percent to 39.5 percent.
Income disparities also continue to persist in the state. In 2010, the median household income for the Latino, black and American Indian communities fell significantly below the statewide median household income for whites. And those gaps are growing. Among white non-Hispanic households in Minnesota, median income fell by five percent between 2007 and 2010. However, black households experienced a 16 percent drop in median income and American Indian households a 22 percent drop. In 2010, the median household income for both of these communities stood near $27,000, less than half the statewide median of $55,459.
Minnesota tends to come out ahead when we examine national averages, but it is shocking to see how our communities of color are faring compared to other states. The poverty rate among white Minnesotans remains significantly below the national average for whites, while the poverty rate among blacks, Asians and American Indians is significantly higher than the national average for these communities. For example, among blacks and American Indians, Minnesota’s poverty rate is at least ten percentage points higher than the national average.
The persistent disparities between whites and people of color in Minnesota contradict our most deeply held values. Minnesotans believe that hard work should pay off, that people who work full time should be able to support their families, and that everyone who is willing to work should have the opportunity to succeed. The levels of economic inequality we are facing is not simply the inevitable result of a bad economy. The problem has been compounded by poor policy choices that have increased the challenges facing already-struggling families. The new data again put the pressure on state and national leaders to address racial disparities.