Minnesota’s economy stabilizes, but disturbing disparities persist


There is some good news in the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. As we initially reported last week, the Affordable Care Act has helped young adults across the United States gain access to health insurance that gives them more stability as they transition from school to the work force. This morning’s data confirm that the share of 19- to 25-year-old Minnesotans with health insurance increased by nearly four percentage points between 2009 and 2011.

However, in other areas, Minnesota isn’t showing as much progress. The state’s median income has remained steady at just under $57,000, and the share of Minnesotans living in poverty has remained near 12 percent.

Minnesota does better than much of the nation on these measures. Unfortunately, if we look beyond the state-level numbers, we see that not all Minnesota communities are sharing in the success. Minnesota’s communities of color have lower median incomes, are less likely to have health insurance, and experience higher rates of poverty than their white counterparts.

While racial disparities are not unique to Minnesota, the problem stands out in our state because we tend to beat the national averages. And when it comes to disparities, we do beat the averages, although not in the way we would like to. The poverty rates for blacks, Asians and American Indians in Minnesota are significantly higher than the national average for these communities, and their median income is significantly lower. (The exception is health insurance coverage: in Minnesota, these communities do better than the national average!)

Also troubling is the dramatic decline in the economic circumstances of Minnesota’s American Indian population since the beginning of the last recession. The poverty rate has increased by 10 percentage points and median income has fallen by nearly $9,000. About one out of five American Indians had no health insurance in 2011. High levels of unemployment are a significant contributor – according to the latest Census numbers, only 47 percent of American Indians were employed in 2011, the lowest percentage of all Minnesota populations.

It’s easy to be lulled by the comforting state-level numbers – relatively low poverty rate, pretty high median income and lots of Minnesotans have health insurance. But all is not well in the state of Minnesota. The benefits of our economy are not reaching all communities. And that must be reversed if Minnesota wants to remain strong and economically competitive. Between 2000 and 2010, Minnesota’s communities of color saw strong growth – an 11 percent increase in the American Indian population, a 60 percent increase in the black population, and a 75 percent increase in the Latino population. If we want to keep Minnesota an above-average state, we must make sure that all Minnesotans have the opportunity to succeed.