The “coloring” of Minnesota


As we prepare to chose our state leaders this fall, it’s time we reflect on an issue that seems to be non-existent in Minnesota’s political discussions: Racial inequalities.

As Minnesota’s communities of color become a larger part of the working age population – and the nonworking population of aging retirees remains very white – the need to address these inequalities is vital to ensuring our state’s continued economic vitality.

There’s no doubt about it: Minnesota is a very white state. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 85 percent of Minnesotans are white non-Hispanics — that’s nearly 20 percentage points higher than the national average of 65 percent. Thirty-nine of the 50 states are more diverse than Minnesota.

But Minnesota is becoming less and less white. The State Demographer’s Office projects that white non-Hispanics will drop to about 75 percent of the population by 2035, with nonwhites and Latinos accounting for the other 25 percent.

Disparities and implications for policy

The “coloring” of Minnesota should be a concern to policymakers because, if left unaddressed, disparities we see today will affect more of the population and place a greater drag on the state economy. We must start paying attention to the differences across racial and ethnic groups, which manifest themselves primarily in the form of drastic inequalities.

Did you know, for example, that the annual unemployment rate in 2009 for white non-Hispanics in Minnesota was 7.1 percent, but the rate was 22.5 percent for Minnesota’s African Americans, and 15.5 percent for the state’s Latinos? Indeed, the Twin Cities has the worst racial disparities in unemployment among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute.

Did you know that the 2008 median household income was about $60,000 for Minnesota’s white non-Hispanics, but about half of that for the state’s African Americans, at $30,000? Median household income in Minnesota that year for American Indians was about $32,500, and for Latinos was about $41,000.

In the realm of education, these inequalities are pervasive. As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, I am one of but a handful of Latinos in my class. I’m not placing blame on the institution for that situation, but rather citing it as a symptom of the state of education for communities of color.

To be sure, the share of young Minnesotans of color who enrolls and graduates from schools of higher education is very low. For Latinos, for example, only 40 percent enroll in a Minnesota post-secondary institution, while about 50 percent of whites do.

An educated population has been a staple of Minnesota for decades. The state economist and state demographer for Minnesota both say that education has been a key contributor to the state’s success. But with the expected growth in the number of Minnesotans of color, we will lose this competitive edge unless we address racial inequalities in education.

Going forward

For Growth & Justice, the issues of educational achievement and attainment for Minnesotans – and especially for Minnesotans of color – stand out as vital to our quality of life and our economic outlook. The Growth & Justice investment proposal for Smart Investments in Minnesota’s Students identifies evidence-based approaches and programs for boosting by 50 percent the share of students who finish a post-secondary education, with greater attainment needed for Minnesotans of color and American Indian students in order to reach that goal.

A recent series of short issue briefs from Growth & Justice offers key facts about why education matters, highlights challenges for Minnesota, and recommends public policies and approaches. And Growth & Justice has called upon candidates for office to set a goal of dramatically increasing higher education completion levels over the next decade, focusing especially on the achievement and attainment gap for minority populations in the state.

We can no longer ignore the inequalities, dismissing them because they impact only a small portion of our population today. If Minnesota is to depend upon its educated residents and workers, we must ensure the success of all Minnesotans when it comes to education. This is a critical point of fact for all of us – politicians included – to address as the “coloring” of Minnesota proceeds.