Minnesota's poverty ranking among the nation's lowestby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota has the lowest rate in the nation of residents without health insurance according to information released by the U.S. Census. The state also ranks among the lowest in the nation for people living below federal poverty standards.
The information keeps Minnesota in the ranking for one of the most prosperous places in the country. But some people warn there are troubling trends the numbers don't reveal.
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota has long been at the bottom of the list when it comes to residents living in poverty as defined by federal guidelines. The new census data reaffirms the state's position. State Demographer Tom Gillaspy says it would be alarming if the state didn't rank favorably.
"Minnesota ranks fairly well in these poverty measures. In general, we have been a prosperous state with fairly high incomes. One of the things to look for every year is to look for major changes, and they don't appear to have in this most recent data," Gillaspy says.
According to the U.S. Census' Current Population Survey, 9.2 percent of Minnesotans live below the federal poverty line. That's about 4 percent below the national average for 2005. Minnesota also fares well compared to other states when it comes to health insurance.
"The proportion of people without health insurance, which is the way this is typically expressed, is 8.7 percent. That's the lowest rate in the country. In fact there's only one other state that comes under 10 percent and that's Iowa. The U.S. average is nearly twice that of Minnesota," Gillaspy says.
Because of changes in methodology, the information doesn't directly compare to census information collected in previous years. Still, Gillaspy says there's been statistically very little change in poverty and income levels in the past three years.
The census numbers are another affirmation of the state's relative prosperity. The survey also ranks Minnesota sixth in the nation for median household income. A second report ranks the state 11th.
Paul Anton, chief economist for Wilder Research in St. Paul, says the data on poverty are encouraging.
"Nationally, the number of children below the poverty line is 18 percent. In Minnesota it's about 11.6 percent. That's relatively good news and it also means, relative to our overall rate, we don't have as many children concentrated in the low income households as nationally," Anton says.
Wilder Research works with the Wilder Foundation to provide services to elderly and low-income citizens and children.
Steve Hine, research director at Department of Employment and Economic Development, says Minnesota typically ranks high because it has consistently worked to educate residents and find work for them.
"We have a high proportion of people that are employed rather than unemployed. And of those that are employed, generally speaking, the wages received by those people exceed the nation by about a $1.60 an hour on average," Hine said.
While the figures are generally positive, there remain warning signs on the horizon.
Andi Egbert, research director at Children's Defense Fund Minnesota, cites the organization's own report last year which documented a spike in the number of children without health insurance between the years 2001 and 2004. CDF estimates there are 68,000 children without health insurance in Minnesota.
Egbert says while the state may be the best of the lot, the number of uninsured children is actually increasing.
"Just because we're on the tail end of a really bad trend does not give us reason to celebrate," she says.
Egbert also averaged median incomes over a number of years to compare the trend over time, which she says gives a more accurate picture of trends than looking year to year. She says median income in Minnesota has declined by $4,000 a year since 2000.
"What that means is that families, simply put, have less resources. Despite the fact that child care, health care, housing, transportation needs -- the cost of all these basic needs -- are going up, households have fewer resources to meet those needs, especially households with children," Egbert says.
Wilder Research's Paul Anton also fears Minnesota's hold on prosperity is a tenuous one.
"Some of the indications I see in terms of policy, in terms of funding education, in terms of how high tuition has gone in recent years, lead me to be concerned -- even with the low rates in Minnesota -- that it's going to be tougher and tougher for children from the lowest income families to make it up the income ladders, up the skill ladder, in the future," Anton says.
The census information is additional ammunition for advocates of universal health care in the state. They say Minnesota's low number of uninsured makes it a natural choice as a place to test universal coverage.
- All Things Considered, 08/29/2006, 5:49 p.m.