The huge number of college students living in Minneapolis is skewing its poverty rate, making it look decidedly worse than it really is.
That’s one big lesson for Minnesotans of a new national analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau.
It has long been obvious to anyone looking at a map of poverty concentrations in the city that some of the “worst” neighborhoods are those surrounding the University of Minnesota.
And since for most college students, the poverty is just temporary, it’s useful to really peer into the question and compare.
After all, Minneapolis is a small city compared to most big-league towns, and also hosts a huge state university campus. Other states tend to put major campuses in small outlying towns such as Iowa City or Ames.
The difference once the students get pulled from the numbers isn’t massive. Removing the students brings the city’s rate down from 23.5 to 21 percent.
Still, that’s one of the bigger skewings among major U.S. cities. Of cities over 300,000, only Boston, Seattle and Austin, Texas, are as affected or slightly more so, with Raleigh and Columbus coming close.
Of all cities over 100,000, Madison ranks eighth and Fargo 12th, with both cities’ poverty rates dramatically reduced once students are wiped from the numbers.
Big changes, too, happen in some smaller college towns in Minnesota:
Duluth’s rate drops from 23 percent to 17.5; Winona’s is cut in half, to 11.8 percent; Mankato’s drops by about 11 percentage points and St Cloud’s by six. St. Paul’s rate gets adjusted by just a sliver: 1.3 points.
Statewide, a lot of folks are enrolled in colleges: roughly 400,000. Only about 50,000 live in dorms, so most spread out into surrounding communities, and it is they who affect cities’ poverty rates, on paper at least.
Minneapolis’s rate is politically important because it is often invoked, for instance, when analysts warn of rising rates of suburban poverty. The frequent comeback: Yes, but just look at how high the city’s rate is.