Child Poverty Rate Rose, Racial Gap Widened, in Minnesota

March 16, 2011

Star Tribune – by Jeremy Olson, March 16, 2011

The latest Children's Defense Fund Kids Count report reveals a tough economy for Minnesota families.

Minnesota's child poverty rate leapt to 14 percent in 2009 -- with minority families faring worst -- despite a high rate of working parents, according to a new report by the state branch of the Children's Defense Fund.

While Minnesota had the nation's fifth-lowest rate for white children that year, its child poverty rate for Asian- Americans was the highest in the nation and its rate for African-American children was fifth highest.

The racial divide was one of several showing a widening gap between haves and have-nots in Minnesota, said Kara Arzamendia, research director of Children's Defense Fund - Minnesota, which produces the annual state Kids Count report.

Income levels have risen over the past decade for high-wage earners, but have stagnated for low-wage earners. The latest economic recession cannot fully explain these trends and disparities, Arzamendia said, as child poverty has been trickling higher and family expenses have been outpacing job growth for most of the decade.

"It's the deterioration of the ability of families to be economically secure," she said. "That really takes a toll on parents and their ability to raise their children."

The annual Kids Count report collates existing data from the U.S. Census and other sources to provide a broad portrait of child well-being in Minnesota.

Minnesota's median income is above average ($69,746 for families raising children) and its rate of families in which all available parents are working (76 percent) is one of the highest in the nation, according to the report.

Yet many families simply can't keep pace, despite full time work, the report found. Citing data from the Jobs Now Coalition, the report noted that a Twin Cities family of four would need $59,484 per year to meet basic needs. That would require both parents to earn $14.30 per hour, full-time. But the median income offered in current vacancies is only $11.50 per hour.

Arzamendia said state leaders could address these trends by increasing the state minimum wage, currently at $7.25, and providing other supports for working families such as additional child care assistance. Families with household incomes below $20,000 are currently committing 29 percent of their take-home pay to child care.