Poverty rates in the Twin Cities fell during the 1990s

The decrease in poverty stems from the 1990s’ strong economy.

Emily Johns

The number of people living in poverty in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., has decreased over the last decade, according to information recently assembled from the 2000 census.

In Minneapolis, the number of people living in poverty was reduced by 1.6 percent from a decade earlier, which means more than 6,000 people are no longer considered poor. The 1.1 percent improvement in St. Paul represents 3,000 people moving above the poverty benchmark, according to a report published by the Metropolitan Council.

The poverty level for one person is approximately $8,600. With each additional family member, the level rises by approximately $3,000.

The decrease in poverty can be largely attributed to the economic boom in the United States during the last half of the 1990s, said

Michael Munson, a planning analyst for the council.

Munson also attributes the poverty decrease to an increase in the number of available jobs.

Munson said Minneapolis added 1,500 jobs to its economy during the 1990s, and St. Paul added nearly 2,000. Munson said the increase in jobs should not be taken for granted because a healthy job base is essential to maintaining incomes throughout the region.

“While (increases) are not big,” he said, “it’s a sign of vitality. There are other core cities that are not doing so well.”

In 1992, the Metropolitan Council published a report called “Trouble at the Core,” evaluating dangerous increases in poverty and warning people about the serious consequences if the trend did not stabilize or reverse.

It did.

The 2000 Census showed there were half as many census tracts – census divisions of approximately 4,000 people divided by natural landmarks or county lines – in the seven-county metropolitan area with extreme poverty levels. A census tract showing extreme poverty means that more than 40 percent of the population lives beneath the poverty threshold.

Debra Detrick, a Metropolitan Council senior planner, said despite city efforts to counter alarming poverty increases in the 1970s and 1980s, the strong economy gets most of the credit.

“It does make a difference to undertake some initiative,” she said. “It’s just very hard to counter national trends.”

Despite the decrease in poverty, census data does not account for the recent recession. The stock market slump erased a large portion of the nation’s wealth, and unemployment numbers in the seven-county metropolitan area have increased. In the first quarter of 2001, the Minneapolis-St. Paul unemployment rate was at 2.7 percent and rose to 3.6 percent in October 2002.

Detrick said although the council has not done recent research on the recession’s effect on inner-city poverty, national numbers have shown increasing poverty rates.

“I would expect that the weak economy has a detrimental impact,” she said.

Munson said although negative effects on local poverty are not readily apparent, they will become more visible when budget cuts start hitting home.

“Redevelopment projects help the older region’s vitality,” Munson said. “That will slow as we try to make up budget shortfalls.”

The Census Bureau measures poverty by using a set of income thresholds that vary by family size and type. If a family’s total income is less than the predetermined threshold, every person in the family is considered to be living in poverty.

Emily Johns covers the metropolitan area and welcomes comments at [email protected]