Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Q&A with State Demographer Susan Brower: The Impacts of Economic Disparities

Following the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of information indicating a drop in household income among black Minnesotans, the Minnesota State Demographic Center released a comprehensive survey on the economic status of all Minnesotans earlier this year.

What impacts are being seen in the state due to these disparities? And what does this mean for Minnesota cities? State Demographer Susan Brower took some time to talk about the results and impacts of the survey.

What did the study cover?
Our main focus was on economic disparity, and we also wanted to show what can contribute to those disparities. Transportation is one example, how easy is it to get to a job? How many cars are available? We wanted to find answers to the question: If someone’s not in the labor force, why? Do they have children they stay home with? Do they have a disability? The high rates of disability, particularly in Hmong, African-American, and Ojibwe populations were particularly surprising. All of these things contribute to income and the economic disparities we’re seeing.

Did you have expectations of what the results would look like? How did they compare with the actual results?
We get a lot of questions about specific racial and cultural groups in Minnesota, so doing this study had been on our minds for some time. We had some ideas about the results, because we’d looked into some of these things before, such as employment or home ownership for a particular group.

What this study did was to bring together the whole picture, rather than just the small pieces we had before. I think people will be surprised with a lot of the ranges in differences, not only between groups, but within certain groups.

Want to know more about disparities in Minnesota and how
they're impacting the labor force? View the recorded webinar.
There is a strong emphasis on analyzing 17 racial and cultural groups, rather than limiting the study to the five groups identified in the census. Why was it important to broaden the focus?
In the past, when racial groups were less diverse in MN, the five groups provided a pretty good picture of what Minnesota looked like. But as immigration patterns have changed, starting in the 1980's, these major race groups have less meaning. We wanted to show the variety of groups and how they have a unique history that contributes to what Minnesotans are now. This makes the results more meaningful.

The study illustrates disparities among the 17 groups. What impact are these disparities having economic growth in our cities and state?
I think that when we’re thinking about economic growth as a whole, we have to look at some information mentioned in the report, particularly projections for the labor force going forward. We won’t have much growth in the labor force in the coming years, so we need to see how we can help everyone reach their full potential. It’s clear when we look at this report that there is potential that we aren’t fully appreciating. This is a prolonged issue, and while it varies in different regions of the state, this is an issue we’re all facing.

How can cities act on this new information?
City officials can keep in mind what’s going on at their level and compare it to the state. We know that the growth in populations of color will continue in the future, we know the disparities are long-standing, and we know that labor force growth will slow. So that means that addressing these disparities will need to be approached multiple ways.

It might seem that racial and cultural disparities are concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area, but Mayor Emily Larson of Duluth spoke about disparities during her State of the City speech. How do these numbers impact Minnesota as a whole, beyond just the metro area?
Any area with a sizeable population of color will have some experience with these disparities and will recognize what’s in the report. These disparities and where diversity is growing is very uneven throughout the state. You’ll see one small town experiencing a lot of disparities, and you move fifteen miles away and the city there is not experiencing any at all. But, if there is to continue to be growth in our small cities, it will increasingly be from outside the state and the country. This is true for growth across the whole state. If we want to continue to grow, we need to look at this information, apply it to each city, and address these disparities.

You can take a deeper look at the disparities highlighted by this new survey during this recorded webinar.

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