Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that poverty is stable, but close observers in Minnesota hold out hope that local numbers to be released later this week will show a reduction.
Tuesday's report, called the Current Population Survey, showed the national poverty rate unchanged at 15 percent. The percentage of Americans who lacked health insurance was down slightly, from 15.7 to 15.4 percent.
Despite the stability of the national poverty rate, State Demographer Susan Brower said on The Daily Circuit that a falling unemployment rate makes for a more complicated picture in Minnesota.
"I think that we can look to some of the other numbers, the job numbers that we have — and we have seen improvement in the unemployment rate, and poverty is closely tied to jobs — so there is hope there that we will see some improvement for Minnesota," she said. She added that she especially hopes to see improvement in poverty among children and communities of color.
Even so, Brower and researcher Craig Helmstetter of Wilder Research expressed disappointment in the national figures.
"We were always hoping that the poverty numbers were going to go down," said Helmstetter. "And there have been a lot of reports that the economy is finally improving after a long and hard recovery from the Great Recession, but not a real surprise that we didn't see big changes in the numbers today."
State data contained within the new national report show that the Minnesota poverty rate remains unchanged at about 10 percent, Helmstetter said. But the American Community Survey due out Thursday will be "more solid" at the state level, he said. Brower said the coming survey is much larger and will show "a much clearer picture of whether there's been any change, what the differences between different segments of our population. Just a much more detailed picture."
Brower said "really the big question here" is the effect that the Affordable Care Act will have on the number of Americans who lack health insurance.
Helmstetter agreed. While Minnesota has traditionally had a low rate of uninsurance, last year's American Community Survey showed that the rate of uninsured children at 6.3 percent, which he said "put us down in the middle of all states."
"So that's a number we'll be watching, to see if things have improved for kids in our state," he said.