The Star Tribune this past weekend quoted Paul Anton, the Chief Economist at Wilder Research, regarding recent figures that reveal growth in the number of people who live in "severe poverty".
What is "severe poverty"? Imagine yourself as an individual with an income of less than $100 per week. That's all the money you have to pay for a place to live, for food, and for whatever other necessities you must purchase. Another example of the "severe poor" would be a family of four, including two children, with an income of $196 or less per week - that is, less than $50 per person.
Analysis of trends by the StarTrib's news service suggests that the number of people in severe poverty has increased throughout the U.S. It grew by 26% nationally and by 62% in Minnesota. On the positive side, the number of people in severe poverty in Minnesota (194,000 in 2005) was 3.9% of the state's total population - the third lowest rate in the country.
It's important to stay aware of these numbers - attempting to understand the trends and to identify what we might do about them. Our Twin Cities Compass initiative and our research on homelessness do just that. Sadly, the severe poor and the homeless include people who have acquired an education, hardworking people, veterans who have served their country, and others whom we might not expect in this situation. For adults, an economic downturn, the closing of a plant, an accident, or other events outside of their control can send them to the lowest part of the income ladder. Outmoded job skills, illness, or other unfortunate life circumstances can force some of them to remain there.
A few recent news articles have sensationalized this topic. Someone, perhaps out of ignorance or fear, issued yet another call for "one way bus tickets" for people who supposedly exploit our resources. Certainly, abuses occur; they always will. However, if we set aside for a moment any concerns we might have about people who commit fraud (which can include anyone from the homeless to the CEOs of our largest corporations, and everyone in between!), these numbers indicate that we have many very worthy and very needy members of our state's population, who deserve our attention.
The results of our latest survey of the homeless will become available during the next two months. I invite you to join us and thousands of others who are committed to improving our communities - in learning what that study has to offer.
As always, please let me know your thoughts. And thanks to those of you who have emailed with questions, comments, and encouragement about this blog.