I still remember the astonishment I felt when reading the 2008 Minnesota Kid’s Count Report published by the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota. It addressed the disproportionate rate of poverty among the state’s Black children as compared to other states throughout the nation. I have cited this particular report in previous columns but still believe it bears repeating, especially when considering the following quote.
The Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota stated in 2008 that “As a group, the economic circumstances of black children in Minnesota are among the worst in the country. Among the 33 states with enough Black children to produce reliable survey estimates, only three states — Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi — had a higher child poverty rate among black children than Minnesota.”
On the surface, the mention of Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi was not terribly surprising as these three states, along with several others, have historically been subject to more than their fair share of economic hardship and neglect. However, I would imagine that the inclusion of Minnesota in that group relative to how well its Black children fare seemed implausible to many at first glance.
Of course, people of color in both the Twin Cities and outstate Minnesota have struggled against the rampant racial disparity that has tormented our communities for generations. Still, I am not sure how many would have recognized at that time that people of color in Minnesota, particularly African Americans, consistently rank at or near the bottom of all 50 states in terms of their overall health and welfare.
These facts are particularly disconcerting when contrasted with Minnesota’s seemingly customary standing as one of the most prosperous states in America when it comes to any number of health and wellness indicators. In recent years, more and more data has demonstrated just how glaring the racial inequities in Minnesota are, including 24/7 Wall Street’s 2015 study that declared Minnesota the second worst state in America for blacks to live.
The financial crisis of 2007-2008 clearly exacerbated poverty among all racial and ethnic groups across the country, resulting in more than 48 million Americans living below the “official” federal poverty line in 2015. Yet, as the poverty rate has leveled out the last couple of years, a July 2015 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation reveals that there are more American children — nearly 19 million — living in poverty today than at the height of the recession in 2008.
As one might have expected, this report, which was highlighted in both USA Today and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, notes that the State of Minnesota ranks number one in terms of “overall child well-being.” This achievement was quickly cited by local media outlets, which to their credit also reported that in spite of Minnesota’s position as the top state for kids, Minnesota’s children of color continue to fare quite poorly as compared to their White peers.
When the Minnesota Children’s Defense fund issued its 2008 report, America was in the early stages of a recession. At that time, approximately 35 percent of Minnesota’s Black children were living in poverty. Louisiana and Mississippi, along with a few other states such as Arkansas, Michigan and Oregon, currently still have higher poverty rates among Black children than Minnesota.
Notwithstanding the fact that there are a few more states now doing worse that Minnesota, there are approximately 10,000 more poor Black children in Minnesota today than there were in 2008. Today, the poverty rate among Black children in this state has risen beyond 46 percent, which accounts for a total of nearly 44,000 kids.
By comparison, poverty rates for Minnesota’s Native American, Hispanic, and Asian children are respectively around 38 percent, 30 percent, and 22 percent. Roughly eight percent of White children in Minnesota are classified as poor, a figure that nonetheless accounts for more than 74,000 of Minnesota’s estimated 184,000 children. With that in mind, I believe that the poverty rate among White children, while far lower than among communities of color, cannot be overlooked.
While we must remain steadfast in our efforts to dismantle the pervasive and pernicious inequality that blights our society, we cannot forget that poverty knows no bounds, be they racial, cultural, geographic, age-based, gender-based or other. This is one of the critical lessons imparted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the last days of his life and his vision of the Poor People’s Campaign.
Therefore, we must continue our efforts to combat poverty wherever it surfaces.
Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.
Dr. Clarence Hightower is a visionary leader with more than 37 years of nonprofit
experience in the Twin Cities. He is the current executive director of the Community Action
Partnership of Hennepin County, one of the largest anti-poverty organizations in the area and the state’s largest Energy Assistance program. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.