The Crookston area overall continues to struggle with poverty rates that are above the national level – even while the poverty rate in Minnesota is below the national level. That by itself is a situation of concern that warrants attention. However, Crookston’s largest minority group, the Hispanics, are faring far worse. Since the demographic data suggest that this is another example of entrenched, systemic poverty within a specific minority group, it is a state of affairs that warrants policy intervention by city leadership and indeed will require that such intervention be made a priority in order to prevent the Hispanic population of Crookston from being a permanent underclass. The Hispanic population in the Crookston comprises approximately 14% of the local total population, according to the Statistical Atlas using data from the U.S. Census. That makes that ethnicity the single largest minority group in the Crookston area by a factor of approximately ten. In Minnesota in general, also according to U.S. Census data, the Hispanic population is growing faster than in the United States as a whole and also is growing at a faster rate than the non-Hispanic white population. Polk County has among the higher concentrations of Hispanics in the state.
In Crookston, almost one in 20 people lives in poverty, regardless of race or ethnicity. Similarly, slightly over one in 20 Hispanics in Crookston lives in poverty. Although non-Hispanic whites comprise a far larger segment of the population and therefore contribute more to the total number of persons living in poverty, economic opportunities for Hispanics to get out of poverty are historically limited. Location and environment have been well-demonstrated to contribute to ongoing, persistent, entrenched poverty, often leaving community members with little real opportunity to “bootstrap” themselves out. Often the community members are unaware of mechanisms by which they can improve their situation or, if they know such mechanisms exist, they may lack the awareness, confidence, or support for how to take advantage of them.
One key mechanism for combating poverty is effective and accessible quality education. According to U.S. Census data, approximately 93% of non-Hispanic whites in Crookston have completed high school (significantly above the national average of 85%, and 29% have completed a bachelors degree). Of Hispanics in Crookston, on the other hand, only 44% have completed high school, and only 7% have completed a bachelor’s degree. The lack of educational attainment, particularly at the collegiate level, given the well-known individual economic benefits of a college degree on average (as shown most recently in an article earlier this year in Inside Higher Ed), is logically a major contributing factor to the entrenched Hispanic poverty. However, it also provides a window of opportunity for helping to solve the problem – especially since the largest segment of the Hispanic population in Crookston by age category is by far those who are 18 years old or younger.
The Crookston area is fortunate to have several education mechanisms at its disposal to help combat Hispanic poverty. Key among these are the Crookston schools Student Success Coach, the University of Minnesota Crookston PSEO programme, University guest lectures in the high school, and the University of Minnesota Crookston underrepresented student STEM programme. Education as an effective means of increase of individual wealth and to reduce entrenched poverty is furthermore likely to be sustainable over time and can be an instrument to support other economic development efforts in the area.
The reduction of poverty in the Hispanic community in Crookston through educational means has economic, individual, and social benefits. Helping that specific subgroup through education mechanisms is a good investment for the city and, in the interest of creating a long-term sustainable solution and preventing the perpetuation of a permanent underclass, a healthy and typically lower cost alternative to other approaches, such as transfer payments.
Education also increases the chances of physical health, increases nutrition and quality of life, and lowers the chances of turning to criminal activity. The chance of teenage pregnancy also decreases. Helping the Hispanic population brings benefits to future generations of Hispanics and also benefits Crookston as a whole. Crookston is suffering from high poverty overall, and the Hispanic community in Crookston, suffering poverty at a higher rate and currently benefiting less from education, should not be left behind.
Don Rutherford Cardinal Johnson, PhD, FPRS, FRGS, is a clergyman, author, and educator, and also is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.