U.S. in Recession

Recession's impact reflected in Census data

by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
September 29, 2009

St. Paul, Minn. — New data from the U.S. Census show more effects of the recession last year.

The new numbers from the ongoing American Community Survey indicate Minnesota's poverty rate inched up slightly last year, from 9.5 to 9.6 percent, although that's well within the survey's margin of error. Minnesota is one of nine states with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent.

Other key measures were essentially unchanged year-to-year. The number of people who reported spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, for instance, dipped by a small fraction.

The number of people who said they receive food stamps or other public assistance in Minnesota jumped by about 10 percent last year.

State demographer Tom Gillaspy says he's noticed another blip in the data being released today.

"The only thing we're looking at really a little closer is what appears to be an increase in the number of people at 100 to 150 percent of poverty -- sort of not poor, but low-income to near-poverty," he said. "That seems to have increased, although the preliminary analysis would suggest that's not statistically significant."

But overall, the median family income reported by state residents remained surprisingly strong, edging up by more than 3 percent for the third straight year. Families in two of the largest cities -- Rochester and St. Paul -- also reported nearly double-digit income gains.

The new survey numbers are thought to better reflect conditions on the ground than data from the census, which happens only once a decade. The American Community Survey is continually conducted, at the rate of about a quarter million people a month.

Experts say the real bite from end-of-2008 layoffs and the Wall Street crisis has yet to be measured. Some of the new data, for instance, reflect reported income stretching back to early 2007, nearly a year before the recession officially began.

"The bigger increases in unemployment and things like that happened towards the end of 2008, and throughout 2009, so, for things like unemployment and things like that, we would be noticing the bigger change in the next round of data," Gillaspy said.

In other state data, fewer people in Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota reported living in poverty, but those declines also weren't statistically significant. Iowa showed a half-percent uptick in its poverty rate, but that too was within the survey's margin of error.