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Area incomes flat, poverty down

While Minnesota and the country as a whole enjoyed a sizable pay increase last year, paychecks in the Twin Ports looked pretty much the same.

Census data released Thursday shows the median household income for St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas counties rose from $50,320 in 2014 to $50,566 in 2015 — about a 0.5 percent change. That compares with a 3.25 percent state increase and national growth of 5.2 percent.

"It's a mixed bag. The Duluth (metro area) did not show an increase, necessarily, that the state overall did when it comes to income," said regional labor analyst Erik White with the Department of Employment and Economic Development. "However, you did see significant positives when it comes to the increase of health insurance coverage, and you also saw a drop of people or families with incomes below poverty levels."

Indeed, the poverty rate for the three-county metro area fell to 13.5 percent in 2015. That's the lowest in five years, and the rate is tied with the national average.

The poverty threshold for an individual is an income of roughly $12,000 a year; the line moves depending on family size and age.

The Duluth area, stubborn to hold on to an economic recovery after the recession, still faces more poverty than the state as a whole. About 10.2 percent of Minnesotans live below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey released Thursday. News reports Wednesday pegged the state's poverty rate at 9.1 percent based on a report with a smaller sample size.

White said the Twin Ports poverty rate has fallen as the area has seen good job growth — though much of it has come in lower-paying industries like retail and hospitality while high-paying jobs on the Iron Range have simultaneously fallen.

"More people are receiving income but not at a high level," he said.

Much of Minnesota's wage increases last year might be attributed to growth in high-paying jobs in the Twin Cities, White added. And, among the 25 most populous metro areas last year, Minneapolis/St. Paul had the second-lowest poverty rates.

"We've seen incomes have been rising faster in larger cities," White said.

The state's median household income last year was $63,500, rising $2,000 since 2014. With half the state making more and half the state making less, data from the American Community Survey shows the state's white population is on the higher end of the median.

"Although the latest data showed declines in poverty and unemployment for some populations of color, they continue to be far more likely to experience economic hardship than non-Hispanic white Minnesotans," state demographer Susan Brower said in a news release.

Local demographic trends will be released this winter.

Health insurance coverage for the Duluth area rose to 96.1 percent last year — a leap from the 2013 rate of 91.8 percent. That leaves about 11,000 people uninsured out of an area population of 275,000.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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