Areas of concentrated poverty growing in Grand ForksThe Northlands Rescue Mission, a charity that traditionally serves the Grand Forks area’s homeless population, expanded its programs to a new group last year: local school children.
By: Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald
The Northlands Rescue Mission, a charity that traditionally serves the Grand Forks area’s homeless population, expanded its programs to a new group last year: local school children.
“I think we doubled the number of children we planned on feeding,” said Volunteer Coordinator Amy Tweet. Every Friday, the Mission delivers bags of groceries to 145 children at four schools to ensure they have healthy meals until they go back to school on Monday.
“If we had the resources there would definitely be more kids who would need it,” Tweet said.
According to Kids Count in North Dakota, an affiliate of a nationwide program that tracks indicators of childhood well-being, the number of neighborhoods with concentrated poverty is increasing in Grand Forks and around the state.
The threshold for poverty is $22,314 for a family of four.
Kids Count said the number of neighborhoods in Grand Forks where more than 30 percent of residents fell below that poverty line increased from one in 2000 to three in 2010.
During the 2000 Census, the neighborhood around UND was the only area of concentrated poverty in the city. By the 2010 Census, that area, an area to the west and the Near South Side neighborhood met the same criteria.
In Fargo, the number grew from one neighborhood to four.
In 2000, there were two neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of residents fell below the poverty line. In 2010, there were five.
Statewide, 7 percent of all children lived in areas of concentrated poverty, according to Kids Count.
More in need
The Near Southside contains Grand Forks’ largest Victorian homes along with many of the Grand Forks Housing Authority’s apartments. At the area’s elementary school, Phoenix Elementary, 48 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The school also receives groceries from the Mission.
“We’re seeing a lot more need with families with kids,” said Principal Darryl Tunseth. “We weren’t doing that a year ago, but we are today,” he said of the Mission’s program and the need for it.
According to Grand Forks Public Schools, the number of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals has been rising over the past decade.
At Winship Elementary School in an area with 20 percent poverty, 70 percent of students qualified, the highest in the district.
The proportion was 65 percent at Lake Agassiz Elementary in the university area, which has 30 percent poverty.
It was 58 percent at Wilder Elementary in the Near North Neighborhood, which has 20 percent poverty.
In 2000, Winship was at 44 percent, Lake Agassiz was at 60 percent and Wilder was at 47 percent, though the rules for the program have changed since then to make enrollment easier.
Superintendent Larry Nybladh said that 10 of the district’s 11 schools now qualify as Title I schools, making them eligible for extra federal money.
While there has long been poverty in schools, he said, the district has set up workshops for staff to learn how to deal with how poverty affects education. “The challenge is first to understand the effects of poverty,” he said. “Our teachers have always dealt with this. It’s nothing new, per se.”
Winship and Wilder Principal Gail Kalenze said it was hard to say what to blame for the increasing need but it contradicted the idea in North Dakota that it was “beating the odds” in the national economy.
“Even though we are,” she said, “there’s a smattering of people who are indicative of what’s happening in the rest of the country.”
Richard Rathge, the director of the State Data Center, said economic growth in the state does not reach everyone.
“It means we have a growing number of working poor,” he said. “It’s one of those hidden things that surprise us.”
Poverty in North Dakota typically is not caused by unemployment, which has traditionally been low in the state, said Rathge, who works with the state Kids Count program. Rather, people in low-paying jobs have not seen their incomes rise as the weak national economy has depressed wages across the country.
According Job Service North Dakota data, workers in accommodation and food services, one of its lowest-paying categories, made $9,412 per year on average in 2001 and $13,520 in 2011.
Even with that gain, incomes are still too low to for many workers to weather unexpected expenses, said Renae Kemp of the Grand Forks Salvation Army, where its 3,424 clients in 2011 accounted for a 19 percent increase from 2010.
“Many of the clients served by the Salvation Army are considered working poor,” Kemp wrote in an email. “The clients have jobs, but they are not earning enough to support themselves if an emergency financial crisis should arise.”
All kids affected
Rathge said Kids Count chose to highlight concentrations of poverty because such areas tend to hold back children who do not qualify as poor along with those who do.
According to the program, children from middle- and upper-income families are 52 percent more likely to fall to lower income levels as adults if they grow up around poverty. In addition to that, education and other services tend to perform worse in areas of high poverty, he said.
Rather than allowing the state’s boom to make North Dakotans complacent toward poverty, Rathge said society should realize poverty’s stubborn growth and its effect on children.
“Our poverty numbers are going up, and that’s an interesting contradiction,” he said. “I think that’s the tragedy. It’s our kids. That’s why we should be paying attention to this.”
Reach Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 117; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.