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Joanna McDuffie feeds a family of four on the food she gets from the food shelf at Northpoint Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis. McDuffie says she's unemployed and gets assistance through Hennepin County. But she says food stamps often aren't enough, so she comes here when she runs out of food. Brandt Williams | MPR News 91.3 FM

State’s poverty rate remains stable

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

By Elizabeth Dunbar and Brandt Williams, MPR News 91.3 FM

ST. PAUL – New census data showing Minnesota’s median household income improving by 10 percent from 2010 to 2011 may not be accurate, the state’s demographer said this week.

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Median household income was $57,820 in 2011 – the highest it’s been since 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

But Susan Brower, Minnesota’s state demographer, said her calculations show it’s not a statistically significant change from 2010, when median household income was $52,322, according to the same survey.

Brower said the sample size is too small to conclude that Minnesota’s median household income improved. Instead, Brower is looking to next week’s release of American Community Survey data, which will also include poverty and income statistics for Minnesota’s largest cities and counties.

The Current Population Survey released Wednesday showed Minnesota’s poverty rate steady at about 10 percent, and 90 percent of residents had health insurance. Brower said the American Community Survey will provide more accurate numbers for those statistics, as well.

“The (Current Population Survey) data are fuzzy enough that I can’t make any conclusions,” Brower said. “It gives us kind of an inkling of what we might see next week but I think we’ll have to hold off until those numbers come out to say anything with certainty.”

Other indicators, such as the unemployment rate, suggest Minnesota’s median household income may have risen in 2011.

Nationally, the poverty rate stayed steady at 15 percent, while median income dropped by 1.5 percent from 2010 to 2011 to $50,054, according to the data. David Johnson of the U.S. Census Bureau said in a conference call with reporters that an increase in full-time employment likely prevented the poverty rate from rising.

Wednesday’s release also included data on health insurance coverage. Nationally, the percentage of people with health insurance increased to 84.3 percent in 2011 from 83.7 percent in 2010. It was the first time in the last 10 years that the rate of private health insurance did not decrease, census officials said.

While there are signs Minnesota’s economy may be improving, food shelves and other organizations that help the poor have been busy lately.

At Northpoint Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis, food shelf coordinator Tarik Fisher said the food shelf is already serving more people than its budgeted for, and the number of clients has steadily increased in the three years Fisher has worked there.

“Our average used to be 30 people a day. Now it’s more like 40 to 45,” he said. “The type of numbers we’re seeing at the end of the month is 100-plus days. And last month we had two, 100-plus days, back to back. And that just normally doesn’t happen.”

Families receive 10 to 15 pounds of food per person in their household. Fisher said he orders food every week and sometimes runs out of staple items before the next delivery.

“Basically, nothing is getting better in the economy. The problem that is going on is out of our hands,” Fisher said.

On Tuesday, about a dozen people were taking a variety of canned food, dry goods, frozen meats and fresh produce, including corn, beans, tomatoes and pears. People were encouraged to take as much produce as they wanted.

Leelah Lacy was among about a dozen people who were taking food. She lost the job she’d held for seven years last month, after giving birth to her latest child.

Lacy applied for unemployment benefits but said they haven’t come through yet.

“My hat’s off to resources like this that are available because it helps. It kind of lightens the burden,” she said.

Lacy bagged a cart full of canned foods, meat and rice. She has a family of six to feed.

“You have to shop right,” said Lacy, adding that she couldn’t get all the food she’s entitled to because she’s carrying a baby stroller with her in her car and won’t have room to fit all the bags of groceries. “You have to economize as far as making larger meals, for leftovers – spaghetti, chilis, rice and beans with meat.”

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