Poverty survey says Minnesotans cutting backby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesotans have reduced spending on food, cut back on retirement savings, and taken in friends or relatives in response to the recession, according to a new survey.
The poll, funded by the non-profit Northwest Area Foundation, aims to provide a different look at the economic crisis faced by many families.
"Our hope was that it would allow us to put a little bit more of a human face, and a more community-level and state-level face on trends that we all know are occurring," said Kevin Walker, president and CEO of the Northwest Area Foundation.
About 50 percent of survey participants say they have cut down their spending on food. And 52 percent say they are not familiar with food support or other government assistance programs.
"I think a lot of that number, about not knowing where to turn, is driven by the fact that some of the folks who are confronted with that plight these days haven't been there before," Walker said. "They don't know what to do."
One-fourth of survey participants report that someone in their household has been laid off or lost a job.
"That's a much more tangible fact than you get from looking at an official unemployment rate," Walker said.
The survey also found that 48 percent of respondents have cut back on retirement savings. About one-fourth have taken in friends or relatives because of financial problems.
A majority of Minnesotans also questioned the validity of the national poverty rate. The federal threshold has long been challenged by poverty rights activists, who say that the formula for calculating the rate excludes many families from receiving government services.
About 70 percent of respondents said it takes at least $40,000 a year to meet the basic needs of a family of four. That amount is more than twice the federal poverty level of $21,834.
The survey found that Minnesotans remain split on whether to pay more in taxes to help people living in poverty.
A slight majority of participants said they would be willing to pay $50 more in taxes "if it would go to programs in your own community that help people struggling to make ends meet." Twenty-seven percent said they were "not at all willing," and 16 percent said they were "not too willing."
Walker said he hopes the survey will help local nonprofits, businesses, community leaders, and politicians address the concerns of low-income families.
Lake Research Partners conducted the national telephone survey, on behalf of the Northwest Area Foundation. About 400 Minnesotans were interviewed.