Poverty in Grand Forks

Several times in the last month individuals brought up the issue of poverty in Grand Forks. These requests came from different people in different occupations, but they all felt it was an important number not being discussed. Their focus was largely on the city, but I am going to use county data. This really is not that big a deal given the city of Grand Forks makes up such a large share of the population and economy of Grand Forks county.

When dealing with the concept of poverty there is one thing to always keep in mind: poverty is an arbitrary construct. What does this mean? For starters, the poverty level for a household varies based on the the number of people in a household: for a one person household the level is $12,880 while for a four person household the amount is $26,500. The second point to make here is a household with one dollar more than this level does not qualify as in poverty, which hardly seems sensible. With that understanding in place we can proceed with the data.

The central question is, what does the poverty rate look like in Grand Forks? While I think that a worthwhile question on its own, it is important to have some context, some comparison points. As a result I provide information about all the counties in North Dakota.

The red point represents the poverty rate in Grand Forks county, as we can see in excess of 15%. In fact, there are only four counties with higher poverty rates than Grand Forks county. So this is not great news. The third largest county in the state has the fifth highest poverty rate. Why bring this up? Well for a long time on the radio I discussed the need for Grand Forks to come to an understanding of what it is. The only effective way to plan and to move forward is to understand what you are currently. Without that starting point as a basis you are merely guessing as to whether or not plans will achieve their desired outcomes.

To put this into further perspective I decided to plot a map of poverty rates, but just making a divide from those above 15% and those below 15%.

We already knew only five counties in North Dakota had poverty rates above 15% (they are all colored a lovely shade of light blue above). Grand Forks is the only county along the I-29 corridor to exhibit such a high poverty rate. These images and data should start the conversation though, not be the end of it. The overall poverty rate is important, but we should also examine age and sex along with other demographic variables to see if there are important concentrations of poverty along these dimensions. Grand Forks county contains a metropolitan statistical area (for now), and is the only one to exhibit such high poverty. Why? This is another important question to answer and would require detailed information on the groups experiencing poverty in Cass and Burleigh county in addition to Grand Forks. Is it a jobs issue? A population issue? A combination? Or something else?

This is an issue that, in all likelihood, will defy easy solution. However that does not mean we should not ask the question and attempt an answer.

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