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Black, Hispanic Minnesotan incomes rebounded in 2017; significant gaps remain

ST. PAUL — New data from the U.S. Census Bureau contain good news for Minnesota workers, especially those in black and Hispanic households.

Median earnings for black households rose for the third consecutive year in 2017, beginning to remedy one of the state's most troubling racial disparities. The median income for black households was $38,147 last year, the census bureau reported, up from $27,985 in 2014, when inflation is taken into account.

"I'm happy we are moving in the right direction," said Kirinda Anderson, a St. Paul resident who works as an organizer with the faith group ISAIAH. "Let's be honest, that's not fast enough."

Anderson noted that black families continue to earn significantly less and have less wealth compared with their white neighbors, despite often working multiple jobs.

"I worked a double shift yesterday," said Anderson, who's a single mother. "That's how we survive."

Hispanic households saw a similar streak with median incomes exceeding $50,000, a 17 percent increase since 2014. During that same time period, white families saw their incomes grow by about 7 percent, to a median of $71,863.

Henry Jiménez, executive director of the state Council on Latino Affairs, said that work ethic likely played a big role in Hispanic income gains as well. He noted that Latinos have the largest workforce participation of any racial or ethnic group — 77 percent were in the workforce in 2017, according to the census.

"It is clear that Latinos are working and they are working more than just one job," Jiménez said. "Our population is also so young ... as they turn of age and start in the labor force, I can see how household incomes would start to grow."

Mirroring (some) national gains

Minnesota's positive economic numbers are reflected in national trends that show increasing economic stability for most racial and ethnic groups. Overall poverty also is on the decline in Minnesota and nationwide.

About 5.8 percent of Minnesota families lived below the poverty line in 2017, a slight decline from the year before. Nationally, 10 percent of families were poor.

Minnesota's overall household median incomes rose slightly more than the national average of 4 percent between 2016 and 2017.

"In general, the news is that 2017 was a good year for Minnesota," said Susan Brower, the state demographer. "We knew the economy was doing well, now we can see how different groups are faring."

Brower cautioned that Minnesota continues to have some of the nation's largest racial disparities. The latest data make it clear that not all Minnesota families were as successful as others.

Minnesotans of color continue to have significantly lower incomes and are more likely to live in poverty compared with the national average.

How can the gaps close?

A drop in black household incomes in 2014 raised alarm bells for many community leaders and state lawmakers. In response, the Legislature convened a special working group and eventually agreed on some new funding aimed at closing opportunity gaps.

That investment was seen as a step in the right direction, but was criticized by many as too little, too late.

Community leaders continue to push for some things they say will close Minnesota's racial gaps and help all residents. They include: raising the minimum wage, making child care more accessible, more equitable education opportunities and affordable health care.

"Those are basic things we need for a thriving state," Anderson said. "I think all Minnesotans want those things."

A changing state

For the first time in its history, one in five Minnesota residents is a person of color. That's a considerably different demographic than a generation ago, when almost 95 percent of the state's residents were white.

A mix of newborns and new immigrants is fueling those changes. Last year, more than 27 percent of children born in Minnesota were people of color, an uptick from 2016 but a slight decline from past high points.

About 486,000 Minnesota residents in 2017 were born outside the U.S., a 43 percent increase from a decade ago.

State lawmakers, community leaders and business owners all agree that making sure all Minnesota residents succeed is key to the state's future prosperity.

"One in five is a big number," Brower said of Minnesota's changing demographics. "It is a critical mass of people who are responsible for keeping our communities and economy going."

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