Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

New Census data shows persistent disparities for growing communities of color in Minnesota

Minnesota’s communities of color are growing. That’s the good news from U.S. Census data released Thursday morning. The bad news? Minnesotans of color still face more poverty and unemployment than white Minnesotans.

Sahan Journal reporter Joey Peters joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to break down new data from an annual survey of populations across the country.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: And according to new data released from the US Census this morning, Minnesota's communities of color are growing. However, even as the numbers grow, so do disparities. Minnesotans of color still face more poverty and unemployment than white Minnesotans. We're going to dive into the data and what it tells us about our state. First, for more on Minnesota's communities, Joey Peters is on the line. Joey is a reporter with Sahan Journal. Hey, good to hear your voice again, Joey. How are you.

JOEY PETERS: Good. I'm good. Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Good. Thanks for being here. OK, so the census only happens every 10 years. The data released this morning was from this annual poll of US residents that looks at demographic changes and some specific topics. It's pretty detailed. What has it looked at specifically?

JOEY PETERS: It looks at more specific demographic data than your 10-year census, which your 10-year census generally tries to get every household in the US to respond. This looks like-- this looks at a sample-- a pretty big sample, but still a sample of about 1.9 million people across the country, and it comes out every year.

And whereas your 10-year data will have more general demographics like age, race, gender, this looks at country of origin, occupation, even what type of energy you use in your household, whether it's solar or gas, what kind of transportation you take to work. So it's much more detailed, and it comes out every year.

CATHY WURZER: OK, so I know you looked at the data and you found some population growth in Minnesota. What did that look like?

JOEY PETERS: Generally, yeah. Population overall has been pretty stagnant, but the population of color in Minnesota has grown slightly in the past year. So slight, slight growth mostly driven by communities of color in Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: OK. So big picture-- we're going to zoom in right now. What do we know about the specific communities of color that are driving a little bit of this growth?

JOEY PETERS: Yeah, so we took a look at-- in the newsroom, we took a look at the last six years or so of data. And I think generally when you think of large communities of color in Minnesota, we know that we have a large Hmong population, we know that we have a large East African population, but what's really driving the more recent population growth are people originally from Central Africa, people originally from the Middle East, people originally from South America. Still smaller communities than our Somali communities, Hmong communities, our [INAUDIBLE] communities. But really that's where we're seeing the growth.

CATHY WURZER: Are we seeing growth when it comes to immigrants, folks-- maybe refugees from other countries too? Is the refugee community growing?

JOEY PETERS: We definitely know, to an extent, yes. For example, the Afghan population in 2017 was less than 100 people and now it's more than 2,000 people. This data that we get from this report doesn't tell us why, but we all know that Minnesota welcomed refugees from Afghanistan right after the Taliban retook control of the government. So we know that for sure.

There's things we don't know but that are interesting to point out, for example, number of people who responded who were born in Egypt went from 2,000 to 4,000 people within the last six years. Number of people who were originally from Chile went from about 500 to 3,000 people. Number of people from Cameroon, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo doubled from 3,000 to 6,000 people in that time.

We don't know why, and that's something that in the coming weeks we'll try to report on to understand why that's happening. But the data alone doesn't tell us why, but there are things we just based on what's happened in the world in the past few years.

CATHY WURZER: Right. So we know that there are still these disparities between Minnesotans of color and white Minnesotans. I mentioned that earlier obviously. You found that's still the case?

JOEY PETERS: Yeah, absolutely. So looking at the poverty rate, which is one of the good-- or one of the indicators that this survey is really good at telling-- overall poverty rate in Minnesota was flat at about 9.6%. But we found a bump from last year to this year in communities of color, most specifically American Indian community we see the poverty rate is at 30%.

Black community we see the poverty rate is at 25%. Latino we see at 17%. White population is at about 7%. And this is defined by people living under the federal poverty guidelines, which is the equivalent of-- for a household of four, that's a household income of $30,000 or less. So we saw discrepancies there for sure.

We also saw a decline in unemployment rate from last year to this year across all groups. But again, we saw discrepancies between white Minnesotans and Minnesotans of color there. And as far as why, once again, the data doesn't tell us, but we know that in Minnesota there's been a lot of historic inequality between white Minnesotans and Minnesotans of color. And we also know that a lot of this data is influenced by the pandemic and the economic fallout from the pandemic, and we know that that hit communities of color harder than white Minnesotans.


JOEY PETERS: So again, there's some things we know and some things we don't, but yeah.

CATHY WURZER: I know you spoke with the state demographer, and of course, there's a lot of data to plow through. What does the demographer use all this data for?

JOEY PETERS: Yeah. So she told me that, first of all, this is the-- as far as any surveys of demographic data done in the state, this is the biggest and most robust of any and surveys about 63,000 Minnesotans every year. And that office really uses that for things like projecting labor force in Minnesota or determining the unemployment rate in Minnesota or taking a look at how a potential policy might impact a certain group. So it's used for a lot of things from that office and across state government.

CATHY WURZER: Sounds like, given what you've just outlined, you've got a lot to dig through. And I'm wondering, does it give you some pretty interesting leads to follow for future reporting?

JOEY PETERS: Yeah, absolutely. Kind of what I mentioned before, the immigration being driven from countries in areas you wouldn't typically think of in Minnesota, that for sure. Also, I just-- it's very-- it's a very overwhelming amount of data that's released, this report. And it's not very accessible. It's about 1,300 different tables of data released all at once. And it's not like it's put together in a report that explains it all, so just trying to explain the surface of this data with several in the newsroom looking through the tables all day the other day, and there's still a lot more of that to come. And I hear that from the state demographer as well. It's going to take that office several weeks to get through and understand what this data is telling us completely.

CATHY WURZER: Well, I appreciate you doing the look at the data that you've done already. I know that that was a lot to do, so thanks for helping us out and for putting a-- shining a spotlight on this for us.

JOEY PETERS: Yeah, absolutely. Appreciate it. And we'll be continuing to look at this in the weeks to come.

CATHY WURZER: Absolutely. Thanks, Joey. That's Joey Peters. He's a reporter with Sahan Journal. By the way, you can read their reporting on the census at SahanJournal.com. Coming up, we're going to dive into another part of this data in just a few minutes. Hope you'll stay with us.

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