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Grand Forks poverty rate climbs

Grand Forks mayor Mike Brown looks on as Downtown Grand Forks Rotary members Mary Fox, Julie Leake and Kristine Schneider drop off packages for the annual United Way "Stack the Stage" event in Town Square Tuesday to kick off the annual United Way drive.photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

North Dakota poverty rates fell last year, but Grand Forks became poorer despite local efforts to fight the problem.

An estimated 16.5 percent of the Grand Forks metropolitan area, which includes Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and residents in Polk and Grand Forks counties, lived below the poverty level in 2016, according to the New American Community Survey released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. That's an increase from 14.2 percent in 2015.

That means about 16,000 residents in the Grand Forks area lived in poverty last year, or about 2,500 more than in 2015.

The increase is disappointing, said Pat Berger, president and CEO for the United Way of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and area. The group switched its focus in early 2016 to reducing poverty in the Grand Forks area, which at the time had the highest poverty rate of the four largest cities in North Dakota.

"I had hoped it would go down," she said. "It's not surprising, but it is a little disheartening."

About 10.7 percent of North Dakota, or roughly 78,500 residents, were living below the poverty rate last year, a slight decrease from 11 percent in 2015, according to the survey. Only nine states had a poverty rate lower than North Dakota.

That included Minnesota, which had a poverty rate of 9.9 percent in 2016, or about 533,000 residents, they survey said. That was a slight decrease from 10.2 percent in 2015. It tied with Alaska for sixth place.

New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate in the nation last year with 7.3 percent, according to the survey. Mississippi had the highest poverty rate with 20.8 percent.

Poverty across the U.S. dropped 0.8 percent to 12.7 percent in 2016, the Census Bureau said in a news release. That meant 40.6 million people were living below the poverty level, or 2.5 million fewer than 2015.

The Fargo-Moorhead area also saw a slight increase of 0.3 percent to 13.8 percent in 2016, according to the survey. Bismarck dropped more than 5 percent to 7.7 percent, and Minot dropped nearly two points to 7.9 percent.

Switching gears

Some of the poorest age groups last year in the Grand Forks area were children younger than 5 years old (27.4 percent) and 18 to 34 year olds (25.7 percent), according to the survey. The least impoverished were 35 to 64 year olds (7.6 percent), but most age groups saw some jump in poverty.

More men (17.9 percent) lived in poverty in the metro than women (15.1 percent).

The median household income decreased from $53,443 in 2015 to $48,671 in 2016, according to the survey's inflation-adjusted numbers.

United Way used to set a monetary goal when it came to raising funds for its annual campaign, but it switched gears last year with the goal of making the Grand Forks metro area the least impoverished of the four largest cities in North Dakota by 2030.

The second campaign since the transition began earlier this week with a Stack the Stage event meant to encourage residents to donate nonperishable food and personal care items. The event held in downtown Grand Forks garnered about the same amount of items as last year, Berger said, adding a local furniture company also donated pillows. A class from Central High School brought canned items.

"People were really mindful of (the event)," she said, adding people are now more aware of poverty than before United Way started its campaign. "This is why United Way is working to help alleviate poverty in our community because it is there."

Berger said she would like to see other numbers released by the Census Bureau, including the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, which are expected later this year. Those figures and the survey are used by the North Dakota Compass to gain a clearer picture of poverty in the state.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers business and political stories. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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