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Minnesota Legislature

Group thinks economic disparities too big an issue for special session

Members of the Legislative Working Group on Economic Disparities in Minnesota listen to a presentation from State Demographer Susan Brower, right, during the Jan. 7 meeting. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The complexion of the Land of 10,000 Lakes is changing, with people of color now comprising about 19 percent of the state’s population. But some of these minority populations are lagging far behind their white counterparts when it comes to economic opportunities.

Gov. Mark Dayton would like to see this issue as part of a special session and has proposed spending $15 million to address economic disparities in the state. In response, a Legislative Working Group on Economic Disparities in Minnesota met in the new Minnesota Senate Building Thursday, and there was consensus that the issue is too complex to be adequately dealt with in a special session but should become a priority for the upcoming legislative session.

State Demographer Susan Brower answers questions from members of the Legislative Working Group on Economic Disparities in Minnesota during its first meeting Jan. 7. Photo by Paul Battaglia

“There are some very serious issues, regarding racial economic disparities. It is a lot to ask of us for a one-day session,” said Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud), who co-chaired the meeting with Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls). Knoblach called for the group to meet again, possibly on Jan. 15, to take testimony and start crafting proposals for consideration during the 2016 session that is scheduled to begin March 8.

State Demographer Susan Brower’s presentation displayed data that she said shows the “complexity of the situation.” She considers it an incomplete picture, but a good place to begin the discussion.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, people of color now collectively total 1 million, or 19 percent of the state’s population, with Blacks holding the greatest number, followed closely by Hispanics and Asians. While the 2014 state median household income was $61,500, this is more than twice the $27,000 median income of Black households. The rate of poverty for Black Minnesotans is three times the rate of all state residents, she said.

For the state to remain competitive and have a growing workforce, she said the disparities need to be addressed.

“We are entering an era of growth fueled by populations of color,” she said, noting these groups are young. Brower added the state has a history of investing in human capital and that we are posed to invest in this new generation.

Champion has prepared several proposals for consideration at the next meeting. “There is a segment of our population that is in distress. … I hope there is some restraint, as we begin to unpack this information, and look at the contributing factors.”

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