The unemployment rate is down in Dakota County, but poverty is increasing — particularly for people of color.

County staff reviewed various data sets and found a disparity between white people and people of color in education, homeownership, household income, unemployment and more. County officials had asked for an in-depth review of demographic and socioeconomic data in February. Last week staff presented trends that they found in Census Bureau data and other surveys.

The numbers painted a mixed picture.

From 2000 to 2013, the poverty rate more than doubled to 9.1 percent in Dakota County, according to census data. That was lower than the statewide rate of 11.3 percent. The county fared better than the state average on various measures.

However, nearly 23 percent of people of color were living in poverty in Dakota County in 2013, up from about 9 percent five years earlier. About 6 percent of whites were in poverty in 2013 — a slight uptick from years past.

Children in poverty

The poverty rates for children caught county commissioners by surprise.

In Burnsville, 22.5 percent of children are in poverty and in South St. Paul 18.6 percent are, according to the American Community Survey.

"That shocks me that it's that high," Commissioner Liz Workman said. She has lived in Burnsville for three decades and said she knows there is a significant amount of affordable housing. But when she saw how the city's child poverty rate compared to other cities, "I was very surprised," she said. On average, 11.3 percent of children in Dakota County are in poverty.

"That's a lot of stress on families, and in our schools," said Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord, of South St. Paul.

There is a growing number of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. About 28 percent of students at public and charter schools qualified this year, compared with fewer than 15 percent a decade before, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

"The question is how do we respond? What can we do to respond?" County Administrator Brandt Richardson said.

He charged Kelly Harder, community services director, with changing those numbers.

There are a lot of social services available, Harder said, but they do not always share information and children fall through the gaps. He hopes a new initiative to track children's reading abilities through third grade will set more kids off on the right path.

"You want to talk about the best anti-poverty campaign — it's called education and employment," Harder said.

A look at growth

In the review of trends, staff also focused on how Dakota County is growing.

"We are slowing down considerably," Management Analyst Jane Vanderpoel told commissioners. The heyday of Dakota County population growth was in the 1950s and 1960s, and the number of people moving to the county really trailed off after the 1980s.

Smaller cities and third-ring suburbs, like Farmington and Lakeville, which are not as "filled-in," are seeing more growth, she said.

Immigrants make up just 9 percent of the population but accounted for nearly a quarter of the growth the county experienced between 2010 and 2014, Vanderpoel said.

Seniors are also making up an increasing portion of the population. The number of people 65 and older is expected to surpass the number of children between ages 5 and 19 in the next decade, according to the Census Bureau and State Demographic Center.