State’s growing poverty needs to be addressed

One out of every 10 Minnesotans is now living in poverty. For a family of four that’s an annual income of about $23,000 or $442 per week.

In the last 10 years, state poverty rates grew by 3 percent. What’s most surprising is that it’s no longer confined to the inner city. The U.S. Census Bureau reports an estimated 11 percent of Minnesotans live in poverty. That’s roughly 587,000 people. Minneapolis and St. Paul lead the way at more than 22 percent each, but in Burnsville, 8.1 percent live in poverty, in Bloomington, 7.3 percent, and Morrison and Mille Lacs counties each have more than 12 percent of the population at or below the poverty level.

More than 16 percent of Minnesota’s children under the age of 6 are living in poverty. The first place this usually impacts a family is at the dinner table. From 2008 to 2010, food shelf visits by metro families in need jumped by 97 percent, according to Hunger Solutions. Clearly proper nutrition is critical to early development and the learning ability of children, especially in the first three years of life.

Part of the solution is to show genuine concern for fellow citizens. All Minnesotans can do something to make life better for those in need. It can start with volunteering at food shelves, homeless shelters or through church and civic organizations that seek ways to teach others to be more self-sufficient. In 2010, more than 1.5 million Minnesotans volunteered roughly 170 million hours to help others. Almost 30 percent of that time was spent collecting and distributing food to those in need. Volunteerism is not only valuable in combating poverty, it creates compassion and understanding among community members. It makes this a better place.

Perhaps the greatest weapon in the arsenal, though, is education. Understanding the consuming nature of poverty is the first step in reducing it. If it’s not understood, it cannot be fixed.

With help from parents and families, the education of our children will be the most effective way to reduce poverty. An educated population is one that is valuable to the workforce, has the ability to overcome obstacles and makes society stronger. Education offers the most direct path out of poverty, but it takes personal sacrifice by everyone who has an impact on children.

Minnesota schools spend more than $11,000 per pupil each year, yet many high schools struggle to graduate students in four years. In fact, more than eight suburban districts have a four-year graduation rate below 80 percent.

The key is identifying at-risk students early and making an effort to help them with different state and federal programs that keep the focus on the individual and directs them on a path toward college. By 2018, Minnesota employers are expecting that 70 percent of the jobs here will require education beyond high school, according to a Georgetown University study.

Right now fewer than 19 percent of Brooklyn Center’s adults possess a bachelor’s degree. The same is true of Isanti County, where 16 percent and in Mille Lacs and Morrison counties only 15 percent of adults have bachelor’s degrees. Education is the base upon which this state’s future success will flourish or fail.

People will ultimately make the difference in this campaign. If we don’t care, who will? Through a renewed commitment to education that reinforces knowledge as a means for a better life, students who are living in poverty can discover hope and self-worth. But it must be a shared vision, one that all Minnesotans recognize as critical to the continued success of the state.

This editorial is a product of the ECM Editorial Board. The Record is a member of ECM Publishers Inc.