African immigrants to Minnesota struggle to gain groundby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
Many of Minnesota's African immigrants are losing ground compared to the general population and to other ethnic groups. Key measures of well-being from Census numbers released today show Sub-Saharan African families are suffering a disproportionate amount of economic strain since 2000. Disparities persist for other minority groups as well
St. Paul, Minn. — The Census Bureau's American Community Survey of about 80,000 Minnesotans shows Sub-Saharan African families in Minnesota have seen their earning power fall sharply since 2000. Median family income for Somalis, Ethiopians, Kenyans, and others from the region slipped by more than 36 percent over five years after accounting for inflation.
The income figure of $23,000 is roughly half that of white Minnesotans. Poverty rates for African immigrant families in the state shot up to almost 47 percent. Minnesota attracted the equivalent of 5,000 sub-Saharan African immigrants a year since 2000.
Barbara Ronningen, from the Minnesota State Demographer's Office, said immigrant and minority populations are much lower in numbers, but are growing faster than settled, white residents. She said it typically takes longer for newer immigrants to feed the state's economy.
"(They're) people who are still getting settled, still finding their way in Minnesota's economy, still finding good jobs and working their way up the economic ladder if you will," Ronningen said.
Finding a way up that ladder is on the mind of Abdirahman Adan of Columbia Heights. When he first arrived in Minnesota ten years ago he sought out relatively cheap housing in Minneapolis' inner city. He relied on a network of fellow immigrants for support toward a better life.
"Get a job. Get a good education. Obey the law of the nation you're living in. Live as everybody is living here. Raise a decent family. I know that and whatever comes with that," Adan said.
But it's getting harder for Adan and people like him to achieve that simple ideal. Immigrants from the African region lag far behind all other ethnic groups in home ownership. One reason is Muslim immigrants, such as those from Somalia, shun conventional loans because of a religious prohibition on compound interest. The percentage of Africans paying more than a third of their income for housing more than doubled since 2000.
Other immigrant and minority categories are also struggling. Blacks had the second-largest income decline. They also had the second-highest poverty rate. Twenty percent of Mexican immigrants live below the poverty line.
Demographer Ronningen said minority groups failing to gain traction is a warning sign for the future. "As they comprise a larger proportion of the total population growth we need to make sure they achieve as much as they can, that everybody achieves as much as they can," Ronningen said. "Otherwise we're going to have real problems in Minnesota."
Despite the odds, Somali immigrant Adan is within reach of the promise that eludes so many others. After high school he joined the U.S. Army National Guard. He had two deployments overseas. Now, he's on track to graduate next spring from the University of Minnesota with a double major in computer science and medical technology. He hopes to eventually end up in medical school.
Adan, who missed two years of grade school because of the civil war in his homeland, now envisions himself as a pediatric physician. "Education will always give you a chance in life and that has always been the driving force," he said. "Even our parents never had a good education. But they're the ones who are telling us that's what we have to do to proceed in life." Nearly all groups post high school graduation percentages in the upper 20s. But the percentages of college degrees among each population varies widely with Hispanic residents at the bottom and Asians second only to white residents at the top.
The Census Bureau hopes to present similar information from the American Community Survey every year and use it to replace the long form questionnaire previously distributed during the decennial census.
- Morning Edition, 11/14/2006, 7:20 a.m.