Advocates say poverty is expanding in Minnesota

Two long-time Minnesota anti-poverty advocates say poverty in Minnesota is expanding and the biggest expansion is among the state's minority and immigrant populations. They also take issue with numbers showing poverty in Minnesota is low.

Richard Chase, a researcher at the Wilder Foundation, has spent 28 years counting the number of people who are homeless, don't have enough to eat or who face other problems.

The St. Paul based nonprofit measures the problems affecting children, poor people and the aged and advocates on their behalf.

Chase says its difficult to accurately count the number of people living in poverty in Minnesota, however he says the trend is clear.

"About two or three years ago we were able to cover 75 percent of the kids eligible for Head Start, but now we can cover less than half, even though we've added slots," he says. "Why is that? Because we can't keep up with the growth of poor kids."

Numbers collected by the government show 10 percent of the state's residents are poor. Most are white. Most live in rural Minnesota.

However, Jane Kretzmann says Minnesota's poverty picture includes a disproportionate number of people of color.

Kretzmann, who directs the project for babies at the St. Paul-based Minnesota Community Foundation, says the largest number of poor people in Minnesota are children.

"One-third of all our births in Minnesota over the last many years actually are paid for by medical assistance," she says. "So, we are seeing in our babies some of our most concentrated poverty."

Chase says children from families of color are one of the fastest growing parts of the state's population.

Families in immigrant communities have the state's highest birth rates, he says.

"African American families, Indian families, Latino families, Asian families, they're the ones having the babies more often than the white families, it's a big population boom," he says.

Kretzmann says poverty, regardless of skin color or country of origin, poses special risks for children.

Part of Kretzmann's job at the Minnesota Community Foundation is to explain to lawmakers and to people who supervise child care workers the importance of brain development in newborns to three-year-olds.

Kretzmann says children including in poor families who experience what she calls toxic stress at that age don't thrive.

"The issue of 'will I be fed,' 'will I be hit,' these are the fear responses that get generated, and that's where we are very worried about the number of children that are growing up without adequate environmental support," she says.

Chase says expansion of visiting nurse programs would help combat the effects of poverty.

Visiting nurses go to the homes of poor women who are pregnant and offer them advice on nutrition and infant care.

Chase says another effective anti-poverty move would be expansion of Head Start.

Jane Kretzmann's advocacy work on behalf of children is being recognized with the Nancy award named for the late Nancy Latimer, a program officer at the McKnight Foundation. Kretzmann shares the award with Art Rolnick, senior vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

The award is being presented by Richard Chase who is also a speaker at the Fourth Annual Nancy Latimer Convening for Children and Youth in St. Paul on Thursday, June 24.


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that Jane Kretzmann was sharing the award with Richard Chase. This has since been corrected.