Poverty Myths & Issues

Ten Myths About Poverty and Homelessness

1. Myth: Poverty isn’t really a problem in Minnesota – or at least not in my neighborhood.

Fact: Minnesota is fortunate to be among the states with the lowest poverty rates. However, the recent economic crisis has not bypassed Minnesota. Minnesota has been one of 24 states to see its overall poverty rate worsen since 2001.  In 2007, nearly one in 10 Minnesotans (9.5%) lived in poverty. Twelve percent of our children lived in poverty in 2007. Poverty is defined as having an annual income of $20,650 or less for a household of four. A 2009 Wilder Foundation research study on homelessness notes that 9,452 people in Minnesota are homeless.

2.Myth: No one goes hungry in the United States of America.

Fact: 35.5 million people in the United States, including 12.6 million children, live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. Here in Minnesota, food shelf use has grown 45% in the past five years, with more than 1.8 million visits to food shelves in 2006. According to a 2006 survey of Minnesota residents, approximately 1 in 10 people reported that they, or someone they know, had gone to bed hungry in the previous month due to a lack of food.

3. Myth: Poverty is a big-city problem

Fact: Cities in Minnesota do experience a high rate of poverty. Consider the following 2007 poverty rates in Minnesota cities:

St. Cloud (13.1%)

Duluth (15.5%)

St. Paul (15.6%)

Minneapolis (16.9%)

However, rural counties are not immune to poverty. High unemployment rates in many rural counties contribute to high poverty rates. Following are the 2004 poverty rates for some of the poorer rural counties in Minnesota.

Cass County (11.6%)

Wadena County (11.9%)

Clearwater County (12.4%)

Mahnomen County (15.5%)

Beltrami County (15.8%)

According to the 2009 Wilder study, 32% of people who are homeless live outside of the Twin Cities metro area.

4.Myth: Providing help for the homeless in Minnesota will only cause more homeless people to move to here.

Fact: Most homeless people do not have the resources to move to a new city. If they do move, they move to search for work or to be with family. An estimated 75% of homeless people are still living in the city in which they became homeless. According to a study by the Wilder Foundation, only 23% of the homeless in Minnesota have lived in the state for less than two years. Of that 23%, more than 1/3 had lived in Minnesota previously.

5.Myth: Most of the homeless are chronically homeless. They have been homeless for a long time and will continue to be homeless.

Fact: Current economic conditions have caused more individuals and families to become homeless for the first time in recent months. The most recent Wilder study shows that the number of homeless people has increased by 22% since 2006.

6.Myth: Government programs take care of the poor.

Fact: While government programs strive to provide adequate assistance to the poor, in 2005, the average welfare check for one parent with two children was only $478 per month. The level of assistance provided by the government does not provide for the resources required to help the poor lift themselves from poverty. According to the JOBS NOW Coalition, the average monthly cost of meeting basic needs for a single person with two children is about $3,800.

7.Myth: Poverty is a minority problem.

Fact: There are more Caucasians in the United States who live in poverty than any single minority group. While a disproportionately high number of minorities live in poverty in the United States (nearly 25% of blacks live below the poverty level), more than 25.1 million whites were determined to live in poverty in the year 2007, a larger number than any other group. In Minnesota, approximately half of the children who live in poverty are white.

8.Myth: Most of the homeless and those living in poverty are single men.

Fact: According to the most recent Wilder study, during 2009, the homeless population in Minnesota included 1,670 families. This is a 27% increase from 2006. 3,251 of the homeless are children whose average age is six and a half years.

9.Myth: People wouldn’t have to live in poverty if they would be willing to work.

Fact: Those living in poverty are finding it increasingly difficult to find work – especially jobs that would pay enough to lift them out of poverty. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, there are 212,000 unemployed workers in Minnesota competing for 26,000 unfilled jobs. This means that job seekers now outnumber job openings by more than 8-to-1.

The median wage for all job openings in Minnesota is $10.86 per hour. JOBS NOW’s updated research shows that in a family of four with both parents working, each worker must earn over $14 per hour to meet basic needs.

10.Myth: There’s nothing I can do to help the poor and homeless.

Fact: There’s nothing further from the truth. You can make a difference by volunteering, donating, and more. Find out how.

For More Information
Poverty & Homelessness in the United States

Poverty & Homelessness in Minnesota