Greater Minnesota’s sense of being left behind as metro Minnesota recovered from the 2008-10 recession turned state House elections in resurgent Republicans’ favor last fall, and colored many decisions in the legislative session that ended on May 18.
To those who still harbor that sense comes an advisory courtesy of the left-leaning think tank Growth & Justice: Not everyone nor every place in metro Minnesota bounced back. Only the suburbs have.
A county-by-county analysis issued last week tells a tale of two Minnesotas — but the two are not metro vs. outstate. Rather, the divide is between suburban counties, where incomes rebounded dramatically after the recession and the gap between rich and poor households is comparatively small, and the rest, where incomes lag and the division between rich and poor households is wider.
In terms of both median incomes and inequality within each county, Hennepin and Ramsey counties in 2012 (the latest year for which data is available) better resembled several dozen Greater Minnesota counties than their nearest neighbors — one of whom, Scott County, ranked among U.S. elites with a median household income in 2012 of $84,571. That’s 37th highest among the nation’s 3,100 counties. By contrast, rising poverty rates in Ramsey County put it on the 2012 list of the state’s 10 poorest counties, a list it did not make in 1999, the report’s benchmark year.
Notable is this: Between 2010 and 2012, 58 of the state’s 87 counties — including Hennepin and Ramsey — continued to experience declining median incomes. Yet the state median income grew by a robust 12.2 percent. No wonder many Minnesotans were feeling left behind.
The widening income inequality the report documents isn’t good news for a state that has thrived for decades by striving to function as one economic and social entity. Inequality breeds jealousy and erodes political will to aggregate resources for the common good.
False perceptions about who’s gaining and who is not will only make that bad tendency worse. State politicians will do well to eschew the politics of resentment, send state aid where evidence shows that it’s most needed and resolve to leave no region behind.