Anyone who walks in Ihisha Anderson's shoes will probably have sore feet.

Anderson walks from the Walmart on Gateway, where she works, all the way to the county building downtown, regardless of the weather.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

"I don't always have bus fare. I have to walk to all these places," Anderson said.

Anderson is living in poverty. She has three children. She works hard.

"Some people think everybody just wants a handout," Anderson said. "No, we don't. We are the epitome of Grand Forks. We are working women."

The Grand Forks United Way gathered about 100 community members for a Poverty Summit Thursday at Calvary Lutheran Church. Anderson was invited so she could humanize the issue of poverty in Grand Forks and talk about ideas based on her experiences with various services in town.

Single moms in Grand Forks are disproportionately living in poverty, said Mark Schill, vice president for research at Praxis Strategy Group, who presented at the summit.

More than 42% of single moms in Grand Forks are in poverty. Nearly 39% of single moms in the nation live in poverty.

Elsewhere in North Dakota, 40% of single moms live in poverty in Minot and approximately one-third of single moms live in poverty in Fargo and Bismarck.

The poverty rate in Grand Forks is 20%, which is higher than the rates in Fargo and Bismarck, Schill said. The poverty rate in Fargo was 13.9% in 2017; Bismarck's rate was 9.5%.

Grand Forks also has a higher poverty rate than the country as a whole. The nation's poverty rate is 14.6%.

Schill said the poverty rate cannot be "explained away" by factoring in UND students who live in town.

"This is an uncomfortable issue and oftentimes we're not given authority to bring up uncomfortable issues," Schill said. "But just because it's uncomfortable doesn't mean we write it off as college kids skewing the numbers."

The median family income from 2012 to 2017 in Grand Forks was $75,881. The median family income in that same period for the nation was $70,850.

The median family income in Bismarck and Fargo was $87,140 and $78,961, respectively.

Schill said the family rate is the best number to use when judging Grand Forks.

"I'm not saying only focus your programming on families, or only care about families," Schill said. "Rather, because of the demographics of this community, this is a better number to watch." According to 2017 data, 10.5% of families in Grand Forks live in poverty, which is the same as the rate for the country as a whole. Eight percent of families in Fargo live in poverty. In Bismarck, 5.8% of families live in poverty.

"So we may not be unique, but that is significant," Schill said.

The city has lost about 900 retail jobs and 1,000 hospitality jobs since 2014. A bright spot, Schill said, is that Grand Forks has gained 600 manufacturing jobs in that time.

"It is generally lower-wage sectors that are losing jobs," Schill said. "Certainly those experiencing poverty are maybe working in some of these lower-wage jobs."

Lower-wage jobs in Grand Forks are paying better than in other cities in the region, Schill said. Wages have been driven up by the labor shortage in the city. Wages in some higher-paying jobs, like science and engineering, are sometimes 80% of what a similar job pays elsewhere in the region.

"Poverty is a complex, systemic issue that doesn't change from year to year," Schill said. "We need to take a long-term approach to the work."

Later in the day, participants did several activities to find what organizations in town are already doing to help those experiencing poverty. They also brainstormed ways to fill in gaps in service.

Next, the United Way will go out into the community and talk with other people living in poverty. United Way interim President Phyllis Johnson said that the United Way will work with social service agencies to invite people to participate in focus groups.

"We'll probably try to get a focus group of all single moms or a group of new Americans and also some more mixed groups," Johnson said.

Then, everyone will be invited to a second, shorter meeting at the end of the summer to discuss what was learned.

"I'm just hoping that people will really get the idea that if we work together, we can do better for our community," Johnson said.