Census: Data shows Minnesota poverty stableby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau for the year 2007 shows that median household income and poverty rates in Minnesota were relatively stable. The numbers changed very little from 2006, and the state's national ranking for household income and poverty stayed the same.
St. Paul, Minn. — To some observers, the fact that income and poverty levels held steady is encouraging. Others point out things are not improving.
Last year, Minnesota's median household income was about $55,800. Adjusted for inflation, that was roughly 1 percent higher than the year before.
The increase tracked with the slight uptick in median household incomes nationally, which crept up 1.3 percent. Minnesota's median household income remains about $5,600 higher than the national figure.
The percentage of Minnesotans living in poverty dropped slightly between 2006 and 2007 from 9.8 percent to 9.5 percent, and that permitted Minnesota to hold its place among the ten states with the lowest poverty rate.
Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy welcomes the new numbers, even if they're not especially splashy.
"It's just sort of slip-sliding along sideways, and no dramatic changes one way or another," Gillaspy said.
Gillaspy thinks that's a good thing, especially in the case of poverty. He said he would expect poverty levels to go up and down a lot more, but they tend to stay in a fairly narrow range.
And even though poverty levels have inched up in this decade and slightly hurt Minnesota's ranking compared to other states, Gillaspy said the difference in ranking means little.
"The differences get to be vanishingly small," he said.
But the census numbers are disquieting to Katherine Blauvelt, a policy analyst at the Minnesota Budget Project. She said the period of recovery from the last recession should have shown improvements in poverty levels, not stagnation.
"The overall poverty rate in Minnesota has actually gotten worse despite those years of economic growth," Blauvelt said. "Child poverty rates have remained unchanged over time. So that tells us that the economy is growing but not everyone is sharing in the benefits of that economic growth."
Art Rolnick, the director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said the reasons for the slight increases in poverty rates over the past few years could be attributed to an influx of first-generation immigrants, who tend to have high poverty rates. The economic picture improves greatly for second and third generation immigrants.
That being said, Rolnick is concerned about the issue of child poverty. The new census figures showed that 12 percent of Minnesotan children under age 18 lived in poverty in 2007. That compares to 18 percent of children nationally.
"The longterm trend there is that kids living in poverty, on average don't do well in school, tend to drop out, and it has a major impact on our workforce development, productivity, cost to society due to crime is enormous," Rolnick said.
Rolnick said child poverty is an important issue to deal with not just in Minnesota but nationwide, and he hopes that will be the main takeaway for any policymakers scrutinizing today's census numbers.
The Census bureau on Tuesday issued two separate measures of household income and poverty, based on two different surveys, which provide different results.
Minnesota Public Radio focused on the results of the American Community Survey (ACS), which the Census Bureau says "provides state, county and city statistics." The other survey, the Current Population Survey (CPS) "provides primarily national-level statistics."
The CPS shows median income for Minnesota households has declined over the past few years. The CPS results compared average income for 2006 and 2007 to the average of two years before. The same survey showed an increase in poverty over those periods.
On the other hand, the ACS reported an increase in household income, and a decline in poverty, from 2006 to 2007. The ACS report for 2007 shows Minnesota's household income increased 0.5 percent from the year before, which lagged the 1.9 percent gain nationwide.
The report shows Minnesota's median household income is $5,062 more than the national median income.
- All Things Considered, 08/26/2008, 5:50 p.m.