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One size doesn’t fit all: New report examines specific challenges and opportunities in the east metro

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Dr. Eric Jolly, president and CEO of The Saint Paul Foundation: “We know a lot about the east metro area and the side by side specific [data] on housing, transportation and employment trends. We wanted to know how does that data become richer by understanding the community?”

The Saint Paul Foundation released Thursday morning an expansive report that examines the challenges and opportunities facing communities in the Twin Cities east metro counties.

The “East Metro Pulse” report chronicles a wide range of issues, including the economy, housing, transportation and employment, affecting residents living in Ramsey, Dakota and Washington counties.

The idea behind the report is to give “deeper meaning” to data that numerous researchers have already accumulated from cities and counties across Minnesota, said Eric Jolly, president and CEO of The Saint Paul Foundation.

“We know a lot about the east metro area and the side by side specific [data] on housing, transportation and employment trends,” he added. “We wanted to know how does that data become richer by understanding the community?”

So, in collaboration with the Wilder Foundation, the Saint Paul Foundation surveyed hundreds of residents from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to document their views on economic opportunity.

The results were mixed. On one hand, the region shows strong economic foundations: Nearly 80 percent of east metro residents aged between 16 and 64 are employed, 40 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and many make decent annual salaries.

In stark contrast to those impressive numbers, east metro racial minority residents lag far behind their white counterparts: The poverty rate among communities of color in the region is 23 percent, compared to 6 percent for white people. In St. Paul, that number is 33 for people of color, compared to 10 percent for white residents.

Residents in poverty
Residents in poverty
American Community Survey estimates, 2010-2014
ACS 2010-2014 five-year data estimates are used to align data sources for comparison and may differ slightly from 2015 single-year ACS data estimates detailed in this report.

In general, there are well-documented barriers that prevent communities of color in the region from attaining employment: Lack of employment skills, advanced education, affordable housing and reliable transportation.

Specific challenges

What’s significant about the East Metro Pulse report, Jolly said, is that it dives deep into the specific challenges that affect ethnic and racial minority communities of the east metro counties.

For example, African-American respondents in the survey said that their biggest obstacle to employment is education, which has become critical in today’s workforce.

For Native-American respondents, on the other hand, the No. 1 barrier to jobs is transportation. “What this shows is some groups are evaluating the job opportunities on the face of the available jobs,” said Nadege Souvenir, an associate vice president with The Saint Paul Foundation and the primary author of the report.

She added: “Some groups have barriers that don’t even quite allow them to get to the job in the first place. They don’t have a way to get there. They don’t have the skills to get there.”

Dr. Eric Jolly
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Dr. Eric Jolly speaking about the “East Metro Pulse” report during an event at the Wilder Center Thursday morning.

Not surprisingly, the report indicates that east metro residents, like Minnesotans in other parts of the state, with advanced degrees are more likely to be employed. For example, 83 percent of the residents with jobs have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 70 percent of “those with some college or an associates degree are employed.” But when you look at those with less than high school diploma, only 31 percent are in the workforce.

For Jolly and Souvenir, the report, which compartmentalizes respondents not only by race and ethnic groups, but also by languages spoken at home, provides a more nuanced look at communities to better assist them with jobs, housing, transportation and education.

“This really was about understanding the web of relationships in our community and having a way to give voice to [say] what they see as priority issues and the major constraints that keep them from thriving,” Jolly said. “I don’t think we can do anything without listening first.”

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