Others’ opinion: Signs of economic hope for Minn. minorities

Published 9:44 am Thursday, September 22, 2016

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

Satisfaction in seeing Americans’ median household income climb significantly in 2015, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau last week, is constrained in Minnesota by a persistent and depressing fact: The incomes of people of color, save for Asian-Americans, still dramatically lag those of the majority white population in this state. African-American incomes in particular are unacceptably low.

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That said, the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) contains a number of hopeful notes for Minnesota’s fast-growing population of color. And its tallies predate promising action by Gov. Mark Dayton and the 2016 Legislature to beef up job training and hiring efforts targeted at the nonwhite population — work that is just beginning this fall.

The news from the ACS isn’t as alarming as it was a year ago, when median income for Minnesota’s African-Americans dropped precipitously compared with 2013. Those incomes were up in 2015 from $27,026 to $30,306 — but that’s enough for the gain to be deemed statistically reliable given ACS’s small sample size.

The new survey also contains encouraging notes about African-American employment in the state. The share of black Minnesotans between ages 16 and 64 who are employed rose to 66 percent, up 9 percentage points since 2010 and 3 percentage points since 2014. More black Minnesotans were employed full time, while the number of part-time workers held steady. Further, about 13,000 fewer black Minnesotans lived in poverty in 2015 than 2014. That change contributed to giving Minneapolis and St. Paul the lowest poverty rate in 2015 among the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

While the frustration with low minority incomes voiced last week by Steven Belton, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Urban League, is understandable, it’s too soon to condemn this year’s actions by the governor and Legislature as “lots of talk, little action.” Racial equity in all its dimensions ranks higher today on the agendas of state policymakers than it has at any time since the 1960s.

Efforts to promote economic gains for Minnesotans of color scored one of the largest new funding gains at the 2016 Legislaure, winning $35 million through June 30, 2017, and another $35 million through mid-2019. Those funds are being distributed via a combination of direct grants to nonprofits with proven track records, and competitive grants for such efforts as employing Somali-American youth, improving educational attainment among Native Americans, and putting more women in nontraditional, high-wage occupations.

State Economic Development Commissioner Shawntera Hardy says she is striving to bring more community input to both the grant application and approval process, and will closely monitor the grants’ results.

The rapid growth in Minnesota’s nonwhite population is making that work more important than ever. In 1990, 6.3 percent of Minnesotans were people of color. By 2020, Minnesota Compass reports, that share is projected to exceed 20 percent. The whole state’s prosperity increasingly depends on the ability of that 20 percent to succeed.