In a political year, when the rhetoric is flowing furiously, it makes sense to recall sage advice from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,” Moynihan said.
That quote popped into my mind Thursday during the annual meeting of Minnesota Compass, an initiative of Wilder Research that is funded by several foundations.
Paul Mattessich, executive director of Wilder Research, said, “We are beholden to no one for our numbers.” Without stating it directly, he was conveying that Compass is not pressured to produce numbers to serve particular political agendas.
“We don’t use measures unless they are sound,” Mattessich said, emphasizing they must be “scientifically credible,” sound and relevant.
Just as a quarterly financial report offers us a window into the health of a for-profit business, the tools and indicators that Compass provides help government and nonprofit leaders set priorities. Minnesota citizens also can use the Compass data for holding public institutions accountable.
A lagging growth rate
Compass presented a report card in 13 areas to measure how Minnesota is performing. While Minnesota’s low unemployment rate and relatively high median income are clearly positive, Compass reported that Minnesota’s gross domestic product (GDP) only grew by about 1 percent in 2014.
If you delve into data produced by the U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis, you’ll discover that Minnesota’s GDP growth of 1.4 percent fell below the nation’s growth rate of 2.2 percent in 2014. Moreover, Minnesota and its six Plains state neighbors constituted the slowest-growing region in the United States.
A decline in the agriculture sector was a big factor in Minnesota’s anemic growth rate. But other data highlighted at the Compass annual meeting suggest that Minnesota could continue to struggle to achieve a strong rate of economic expansion.
“By 2025, Minnesota’s older adult population (age 65-plus) is expected to exceed our state’s school-age population for the first time in our state’s history,” according to a Compass report. “Currently, in one-third of Minnesota’s counties, at least 20 percent of the residents are older adults. By 2030, this should be true for every county in Minnesota.”
Already some businesses have indicated worker shortages for certain occupations, and Minnesota’s economic growth could be suppressed if the state is unable to attract a healthy supply of new workers as well as retain a large percentage of Minnesota residents.
Currently, Minnesota has the third-highest level of employment in the United States. More than three-fourths (77 percent) of Minnesota adults were employed in 2014. The proportion of adults working was 79 percent for non-Hispanic whites and 68 percent for people of color.
For the financial health of individual families and for the state’s economic future, Minnesota will need to produce better results on narrowing or closing racial disparity gaps.
Closing the achievement gap
Generation Next, a nonprofit organization that is led by former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, is focused on closing the achievement gap for students of color in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Generation Next was created through a coalition of civic, business and education leaders, who recognize Minnesotans cannot simply talk about the achievement gap.
They have set specific goals for addressing the disparities. For example, one goal states that by the end of the eighth grade, “each student is on track to meet benchmarks for success in math.”
Generation Next and Minnesota Compass have teamed up to ensure there are good data to track the results of disparity-reduction efforts.
Generation Next reports that 70 percent of white third-graders in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region are proficient in reading, while only 38 percent of students of color meet that threshold.
“More than 1 million people in our state are people of color,” said Craig Helmstetter, Compass project director. About 3 million people live in the Twin Cities metro area, and about 762,000 are people of color.
“Since 1990 the population of color has accounted for nearly all of the growth in Minnesota’s population,” Compass reported. Between 1990 and 2014, Minnesota’s non-Hispanic white population increased by 8 percent, while the population of color skyrocketed by 270 percent.
Because of that dramatic population growth, many immigrant-led organizations are tackling school achievement and employment gaps.
“We live this marginalization,” Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services, told attendees of the Minnesota Compass meeting. “There are stories behind these numbers.”
The Compass gathering brought into sharp relief that Minnesota’s future economic health is closely linked with doing a much better job of educating and employing communities of color.
In an election year when all 201 legislative seats will be on the ballot, it’s an issue that citizens should raise with candidates of all political persuasions.
Liz Fedor is an editor at Twin Cities Business magazine and previously served as a program officer for two Minnesota-based foundations.
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