Census data illustrate opportunity gaps

Betsy Hammer
Oct 17, 2019

More than half a million of our Minnesota neighbors – 9.6 percent – lived in poverty in 2018, according to new data released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. That rate is better than the national rate of 13.1 percent, and lower than the Midwest region as a whole, where 12.5 percent of people live in poverty.

That’s meaningful progress. Over the last decade, as the United States embarked on the long, slow recovery from the Great Recession, the share of Minnesotans living in poverty has decreased. In 2010, 11.6 percent of Minnesotans lived in poverty.

However, today’s data also demonstrates that economic growth on its own is not enough to make Minnesota a state where everyone can thrive. Even in this relatively strong economy, nearly 1 in 10 Minnesotans find that lack of good paying jobs, challenging transportation obstacles, and other barriers make it hard to afford the essentials, much less get ahead. Minnesota’s people of color and indigenous Minnesotans are more likely to face these kinds of roadblocks. That’s bad news for the workers and families being left out and also bad news for our economy as a whole.

Overall, white Minnesotans experience lower rates of poverty while Minnesotans of color have worse outcomes, as demonstrated by the table below. We know that a history of discriminatory practices in access to opportunity, education, housing, and other policies, going back to our earliest days as a state, means that people of color face extra hurdles to economic opportunity.


2018 Poverty Rate

 All Minnesotans


        White, Non-Hispanic or Latinx




        Hispanic or Latinx




        American Indian


Source: American Community Survey

We must do more to build a state where all Minnesotans can thrive. Minnesota needs to be firing on all cylinders and including everyone in order to maximize our state’s economic potential. And research shows that diversity in the workforce can play a role in expanding the economy, reducing employee turnover, and supporting economic competitiveness, strengthening the case for an economy that includes all of us.

Minnesota has made recent policy investments in the economic future of everyday people, such as our recent expansions of the Working Family Credit and the Minnesota Family Investment Program, so that Minnesotans can better afford basic necessities like groceries, rent, and gas when work just doesn’t pay enough to live on. And we must do more to provide a focused response to ensure communities that face historical and structural barriers are able to fully access the opportunities in the economy.

Today’s data release might appear to provide Minnesotans with bragging rights. After all, Minnesota’s 9.6 percent poverty rate ties us at sixth lowest in the nation. However, a deeper dive to look at the full picture is cause for concern. We can and must do better to ensure that all Minnesotans are able to participate in our state’s prosperity and thrive.