Poverty workers saw rise in need first


The U.S. Census Bureau made it official this year, though a lot of people have known for a long time that the numbers of the needy in Minnesota were rising.

The people who run emergency food pantries, house the homeless and educate our kids were telling us so.

Schools personnel told of children and their families living in cars and kids coming to school hungry. Emergency food providers told of jobless folks who once donated to emergency food shelves now packing up bags of groceries to bring home. Housing providers told of the need for more shelter space. Government officials pointed to vacant houses and soaring numbers of the poor in suburban cities.

Community Sketchbook focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them.

It is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, and some Minneapolis Foundation donor advisors.

Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundations.

But Census numbers quantified and legitimized other surveys and everyday observations: 2011 was a year in which more and more Minnesotans entered the ranks of the poor and near poor, putting stress on people and institutions throughout the state.

This fall U.S. researchers reported that 10.8 percent of Minnesotans fall at poverty level or less, up from 9.6 percent in 2007-08 before the recession. Statewide, that calculates at about 544,000 people. For an individual, poverty level is $11,344 or less a year.

Add in the so-called near poor, those making 200 percent of the poverty level, and 27.5 percent of Minnesotans are poor, almost a 4 percent increase since 2007, according to state demographer Tom Gillaspy.

Still, Minnesota has fewer poor than the national average through the worst downturn since the 1930s and a sluggish economic recovery.

Now, at year’s end, it’s worth gathering together and pondering some of other poverty numbers, both from the Census and other sources. Here they are:

  • The poverty rate in Minnesota’s suburban cities has risen from 4 percent in 2001 to 5.8 percent in 2007 to 7.6 percent in 2010. That’s the “new face of poverty,” in the suburbs, says Benjamin Senauer, a professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota.
  • More than 15 percent of young Minnesotans live at or below the poverty level, with almost 1 in 3 kids in Brooklyn Park at that level.
  • Doubled, are the hunger numbers in Minnesota over the past five years.
  • More than 580,000 Minnesotans reported last summer they worry about having enough food on the table. That’s about one in 10 Minnesotans, according to Hunger-Free Minnesota.
  • The Homeless Students Count for school year 2009 to 2010 authorized by the Minnesota Department of Education shows that 45 percent of all school districts reported having enrolled one or more homeless students.
  • More than half of Minneapolis’ American Indian, Asian and black children live in poverty, according to the One Minneapolis Community Indicators Report compiled by The Minneapolis Foundation and the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.
  • More Minnesota school children receive free lunch or get it for less under the National School Lunch Program than in years past. Almost 33,000 Minnesota kids signed on to the program in the past two years. “What that really is indicating is a deep need,” says Senauer.
  • Low-income school children across the state now make up 37 percent of the total student population.