Big Goals, Little Progress on Fighting Poverty in MN

Big Goals, Little Progress on Fighting Poverty in MN Click to Enlarge

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota has a deadline to reduce poverty, and it's only two years away.


Nine years ago, a bipartisan legislative commission studied poverty in the state and set out an ambitious plan to eliminate it. But time is running short, and Anne Krisnik, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, said that by her group's calculation, things aren't looking good to meet that deadline based on the three benchmarks set by the commission.

"One was to reduce the poverty rates among racial minority groups to the national average by 2012, which we did not do," she said. "One was to reduce the poverty rates among children by half by 2014, which we did not do. And the third is to eliminate poverty by 2020."

The coalition's latest update, released this month, showed that almost 13 percent of Minnesota children live in poverty and one in ten households is affected by hunger. The update also found huge gaps in racial disparity for families in poverty. It said Minnesotans of color are also about half as likely to own a home and significantly less likely to graduate from high school on time.

The median annual income for African-American Minnesotans is about $32,000, compared with more than $90,000 for whites. Brett Grant, director of research and policy for the group Voices for Racial Justice, said historic, institutional racism continues to be a problem in the state.

"Minnesota is known across the nation to have a wonderful education system, a wonderful health-care system," he said, "but when you conduct a racial equity analysis, it actually has some of the worst racial and economic disparities in the nation."

There is some good news, however. In 2017, state foreclosure rates were the lowest in a decade. Graduation rates for homeless students have risen almost 10 percent, and the state's minimum wage has increased.

Krisnik said there are many different factors at work, adding that it will take both public and private-sector commitments to help people recover from poverty.

"There isn't one single way to address poverty," she said. "So, if you give someone a safe home, that's very important, but if they don't have a job or they don't have a car to get to work, that's a problem."

Krisnik said the ultimate purpose of tracking these issues is to get Minnesotans talking about poverty, and asking how the state can do better to keep its pledge to end it. The report is online at jrlc.org.

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