Our View: Economic disparities must be addressed

Members of the Legislative Working Group on Economic Disparities in Minnesota listen to a presentation from State Demographer Susan Brower, right, during the Jan. 7 meeting.

Katie Clark Sieben says she expects exciting discussions after the Minnesota Legislative session starts on Tuesday.

While sitting down with members of the Post-Bulletin Editorial Board on Wednesday, the Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner said she expects efforts to address economic disparities will pick up where they left off when Gov. Mark Dayton failed to gain traction on a special session last year. The effort sought to address the issue highlighted by a U.S. Census Bureau report, which indicated black household incomes plunged in the state in 2014.

From 2013 to 2014, the median income for black households in Minnesota fell 14 percent, which was a decline from about $31,500 to $27,000. The drop puts incomes at less than half the statewide median of $55,000. At the same time, the poverty rate for the state's black residents rose from 33 percent to 38 percent, well above the state's rate of 11 percent for all residents.

The report revealed the median black household in Minnesota is now worse off than similar households in most other states. Ranking 45th among 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., the median black household income in Minnesota only topped six other states — North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin, Maine, Ohio and Kentucky.

An obvious problem was noted, and it continues to linger.


In a state where unemployment has dropped to 3.5 percent, the jobless rate within the black community was four times higher — 14.1 percent — in December.

While the legislature's new Working Group on Economic Disparities was created during Dayton's push for a special session, lawmakers were unable to zero in on a fix that could garner quick approval. Yet, Sieben said she's confident the work, which reportedly included more than six hours of testimony from nearly 70 state residents, won't be wasted. "I think a lot of good work was done," she said, noting the challenge will be focusing on solutions the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House can agree on.

We've seen interesting ideas being circulated. Sieben said her office will be pushing for increased funding of the Pathways for Prosperity program, which helps identify career pathways for low-income residents, as well as youth workforce development and efforts to help grow minority-owned businesses in the state. Other proposed legislation making the rounds include a bill to require study of disparity impacts of future legislation and added education-based tax credits.

While all could help address economic disparity in Minnesota's workforce, the coming weeks will require efforts to decide which will have the greatest impact, both today and in the future. Those efforts will need to help level playing fields created by long-term academic disparities that have left many without the educational qualifications required to compete for good jobs.

Equity will require effort, and as lawmakers prepare to spur that effort, we can see why Sieben expects some exciting work ahead.

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