Note: This week Growth & Justice launches “Matters of Fact,” a new recurring feature of our weekly e-news, featuring original analysis from our own research operation, headed up by Policy & Research Director Kate Searls.
A quick cut from the latest American Community Survey (ACS) reaffirms that that Minnesota faces significant and serious challenges with regional and racial disparities. Only one in every ten (6 of 56) mostly rural counties had a median income above $60,000. In contrast, almost one in two (14 of 31) mostly urban/suburban counties had an annual income above $60,000.
As a whole, Minnesota looks relatively strong and healthy with the nation’s third lowest poverty rate in 2017 (tied with Hawaii at 9.5%). But Minnesota had the nation’s 11th highest poverty rate for African Americans, and the 14th highest poverty rate for Native Americans.
As we develop our Minnesota Equity Blueprint, Growth & Justice will advance policies that address these disparities. One example would be investments in expanding access to childcare, particularly for low-income rural Minnesotans and households of color. Getting and keeping a living wage job is the number one way to exit poverty, but affordable child care greatly increases that prospect.
In keeping with our emphasis on policies that help Greater Minnesota thrive more inclusively, we highly recommend an extraordinary New York Times essay – “Go Home to Your “Dying” Hometown.” The author is Michele Anderson, originally from rural northwestern Minnesota, who went to the West Coast for college and career in her youth, but has returned to the region and is working to improve it. The subhead of the piece captures the essence: “I (went home), and it isn’t what I expected. I am more involved in social and racial justice, economic development and feminism than I ever was in a big city.’’ Anderson cites as her inspiration a 2009 commencement address by Wendell Berry at Northern Kentucky University. Berry encouraged students “to consider whether they might be better and more responsible citizens if they embraced the concept of homecoming rather than the desire for upward mobility.’’ And we couldn’t agree more with Anderson’s concern about the “anthropological attention” to rural America, which includes false “Trump country” narratives (about Fergus Falls, her new hometown), to “patronizing television contests in which viewers vote for the ‘best small town’ in their state…I’m ready for a new kind of attention, one directed somewhere between bleak landscapes of ignorance and bigotry, and Pollyanna illusions of the pastoral life. This is where most rural Americans actually live and where some of the most important work is being done.”
Consistent with what we’ve heard from Thriving by Design meetings in every corner of the state, Policy & Outreach Manager Sarah Leistico testified in favor of Gov. Tim Walz’s tax bill recently. Here’s a partial transcript: “We continue to hear from Metro, and particularly Greater Minnesota, a growing demand for comprehensive investments and improvements in public goods and services. This includes Border to border broadband, cradle-to-career education and career pathways, child care assistance, restoration of crumbling infrastructure, access to affordable housing and affordable health care for all, major upgrades for roads and local transit, increased access to ride-sharing and mobility services, Local Government Aid expansion, and investments in clean renewable energy. We support HF 2125 and the governor’s other major tax proposals because they fund prudent increases for these vital investments. These bills reflects traditional Minnesotan communitarian values, which create a solid foundation for business and economic growth.”
“Both urban and rural people share a future far beyond whom we elect as leaders. That shared future is what drives us to live meaningful lives, and what will make us the best stewards of the earth that we can be, no matter where we choose to live.” -- Michele Anderson, community activist from Fergus Falls, in New York Times opinion piece cited above.