Black Minnesotans see drastic income drop, Dayton demands action

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota hasn't done enough to help African-Americans get good jobs and climb out of poverty, Gov. Mark Dayton and other leaders said Thursday.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota hasn’t done enough to help African-Americans get good jobs and climb out of poverty, Gov. Mark Dayton and other leaders said Thursday.

The call for more action was prompted by a withering U.S. Census Bureau report showing the typical household income for black Minnesotans falling by nearly $4,000 last year, even as other racial groups saw stable or rising incomes.
“These economic gaps are driven by the lack of equal access to good jobs, housing, transportation, education, and health care,” Dayton said in a statement. “They should constitute a call to action for all of Minnesota’s leaders in the public and private sectors to redouble efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate them.”
But others said the new report shouldn’t be surprising.
“When you think about how long we’ve been talking about this... it’s really not surprising at all that African-Americans are having such trouble,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden, an African-American lawmaker who represents south Minneapolis. Hayden compared black Minnesotan poverty to a hurricane that Minnesotans should have seen “heading our way for a long time.”
The median household income for black Minnesotans fell by nearly $4,000 between 2013 and 2014, according to new figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau. During that same period, median incomes either rose or remained stable for Minnesota’s three other main racial groups.
Along with this decline in median income, the poverty rate for all African-Americans in Minnesota rose from 32.8 percent to 37.5 percent. Again, across all other racial groups, the poverty rate either declined or remained stable last year.
In 2013 dollars, the median income for black Minnesotans was just over $31,000. A year later, that figure dropped to $27,000. Likewise, this decline further widened the pay gap between black Minnesotans and their white counterparts. The median income for whites in Minnesota was $64,000 in 2014.
Jeffry Martin, president of the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP, said certain government policies, such as laws that lead to the over-criminalization of black men, continue to damage prospects for African-Americans today. And as a result of that unequal playing field, Martin said, black Minnesotans find their median incomes and poverty rates unequal to other races.
“It seems time and time again, the explanation for a lot of these things is racism and the common belief that African-Americans and people of African descent are less than, and deserve less opportunities in the employment field, the housing field or in the education field,” Martin said.
Hayden said if Dayton really wants to address economic disparities, his office should put forward budget measures targeted at the economic development of African-Americans.
“When we have a crisis in this state, we respond. This is a crisis just like the turkeys and just like a storm. Those are crises that we really pay attention to. We’ve got to do the same thing here,” Hayden said.
Dayton’s staff said the state has been trying to help black Minnesotans find jobs and opportunities and pointed to efforts underway at the state Department of Transportation - which hasn’t done enough historically to hire minority workers and contractors, Commissioner Charlie Zelle said.
“Past efforts have really been more about compliance, making sure we’re following the law,” Zelle said. “We know, and the governor stresses, we’ve got to go beyond that.”
One possible solution is to go beyond outreach and train current employees in “cultural competency” to try to create a more welcoming work environment. Zelle said he’s instituted that training at MnDOT and participated himself.
“If we’re not hiring a percentage of population of minority recruits … then what’s wrong with us?” Zelle said. “Why are we not being a workforce that can attract African-American employees? Because these are good-paying jobs.”
Nationally, black households saw their median incomes fall 1.4 percent last year, to $35,398. The drop is a continuation of a 10-year decline in the median income for black Americans. Between 2003 and 2013, McClatchy Newspapers found the median income for black households fell 13.8 percent.
Furthermore, the poverty rate for African-Americans nationally rose by 1 percentage point to 26.2 percent.
In the coming weeks, Minnesota state demographer Susan Brower and her staff will analyze the data and look for statistically significant trends. Among other areas, they will try to understand what may have caused Minnesota’s steep decline.
“What we will do in this particular case is to look at whether there have been any compositional changes in that group that would explain the change,” Brower said. “Whether there have been changes in occupations; whether there is a change in earnings; if there has been a shift from full time to part time; whether there has been migration in or migration out that could explain that difference.”

Black Minnesotans see median income fall in 2014
Several state leaders say they are troubled to see black income levels fall despite growth or no change in other races.
Race                                    2013       2014        +/-(%)
Black or African-American $31,021  $27,026   -12.88
White                                 $62,634  $64,281     2.63
Asian                                 $65,107   $67,944    4.36
All other races                   $36,371   $40,064    10.15

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