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Pioneer editorial: Feeling insecure about food

The great recession may be over, but its impact still lingers at the dinner table.

As Minnesota Public Radio reported last week, 10.6 percent of Minnesota households are what a U.S. Department of Agriculture report lists as "food insecure." What does that mean? Simply put, people in those homes don't have enough food on a consistent basis to maintain healthy living. We didn't say "healthy lifestyle," which implies people are making conscious choices on what food to eat. In this case, "healthy living" refers to having consistent access to enough food to live.

Of that 10.6 percent, MPR noted, a total of 4.8 percent households are in the "very low food security" category, people who sometimes ate less than they should or skipped meals altogether because they didn't have enough money.

That's particularly troubling for Beltrami County, historically one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the state. In the most recent Quick Fact report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of people living below the poverty level in Beltrami County (2007 to 2011) was at 19.7 percent. Minnesota's overall average: 11 percent.

We know that it is impacting us here. The Bemidji Community Food Shelf continues to serve more and more people every month. Many people are working two or more jobs to eke out a living.

And while there are no easy solutions, the USDA report will surely be cited when the Legislature again begins to debate raising Minnesota's minimum wage. During the last Legislative session, the House voted to raise the state's minimum wage, but the legislation stalled in the Senate. Minnesota's current minimum wage is $6.15 an hour, but most workers fall under the federally mandated $7.25 wage. Labor and other advocacy groups are again calling for a $9.50 minimum wage by 2015, and the issue was an often-discussed topic for politicians visiting the recent Minnesota State Fair.

But just raising the wage isn't as easy as it sounds, both sides of the debate admit. Raising the wage boosts the spending power of consumers in the state, advocates say. If wages suddenly go up, and employers are forced to cut staff or pass on added costs to consumers, the state will have gained little, the other side cautions.

In Minnesota, wages also tend to lower the farther you are from the Twin Cities. Clearly, action needs to happen in the next Legislative session in reaching an agreement on the minimum wage.

If not, our food insecurity will surely continue to rise.