by Jacob Wascalus, former staff

When the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 13% of Minnesota’s Asian population was living below the federal poverty level in 2018, is it referring to Asians of Chinese heritage? Korean? Vietnamese?

Well, all of them.

But that 13% may not be particularly helpful to community members or policymakers until the data are disaggregated by cultural background.

By providing the public with detailed information about Minnesota’s largest cultural communities—information related to demographics, economics, and housing, among others—policymakers and the cultural communities themselves can identify specific interventions and investments to help these communities not just close opportunity gaps but thrive.

This type of information—detailed data by cultural group—is now available on the Minnesota Compass website. Thanks to U.S. Census Bureau surveys like the American Community Survey (ACS) that includes respondents’ cultural heritage, Minnesota Compass now has data snapshots of the 26 largest cultural community groups in Minnesota. (See Cultural Community Profiles for the full list of profiles and their population.)

Why are we releasing this data?

Many Minnesota Compass users have sought more information about a particular cultural community, whether a community they themselves identify with or another community they are interested in. And it’s no wonder: Minnesota’s population has reached a historic high—5.6 million residents as of 2018. Minnesota’s indigenous population were the state’s first residents, followed by an influx of residents from other states and immigrants from mostly European countries. In more recent decades, Minnesota has become home to people from across the globe.

For cultural organizations who advocate on behalf of a specific community, having more information about that community can be helpful in determining how best to target resources and outreach. For example, what could an organization working to improve the lives of the 32,000 Minnesotans who identify as Vietnamese do after learning that 42% of Vietnamese Minnesotans speak English less than well? Perhaps it could organize English language classes, or ensure that important local government notices, such as information about property taxes, is appropriately translated. After all, nearly 80% of Vietnamese Minnesotans are homeowners.

How is this data different from other race and ethnicity data?

The 26 profiles that Minnesota Compass developed are based on self-reported answers to questions on the American Community Survey related to race, ancestry, birthplace, and parental characteristics. The profiles give users a more detailed view of population subgroups than is readily available from the U.S. Census Bureau, which releases data in bucketed aggregates based on broad race and ethnicity categories. While users of this kind of aggregated data can learn high-level facts about a population based solely on race—13% of Asian Minnesotans earn less than the federal poverty line, or 52% of Black Minnesotans pay more than 30% of their income in housing costs—perhaps a more useful data set would be one based on a cultural group: 91% of Somali Minnesotan households rent, or 49.8% of Colombian Minnesotans 25 years of age or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher. These measures offer insights into specific cultural communities that aren’t available from the generalized race data that the Census Bureau makes available. (Read more about our methodology.)

Important data…with a grain of salt

While we are excited about these profiles and want people to use the information for good, users should exercise caution when drawing conclusions.

  1. The data do not always tell the full story. Why do just 9% of Somali Minnesotans live in owner-occupied housing? The data in the profiles don’t explain why, and without more information, it’s dangerous to make assumptions about the cause. More research would be needed to better understand a topic as complicated as housing tenure. Context matters.
  2. These are estimates. How accurate are estimates? Well, they come with margins of error, which we’ve included. Margins of error, when added or subtracted, show a range of possible values for a specific estimate. For example, the 49.8% of Columbian Minnesotans 25 years of age and older who have a bachelor’s degree or higher could be as low as 40.5% since the margin of error is 9.3%. It could also be 59.1%. Moreover, the margins of error themselves reflect values for a 90% confidence level. That means we’re 90% confident that the estimate falls between the range of possible values.
  3. Many of the population figures could be undercounts. Or overcounts. Some communities may not have felt comfortable revealing their cultural background when responding to the American Community Survey, and they may have glossed over or even omitted answers to questions about where they were born or their ancestral heritage. Each survey that doesn’t have this information reduces the robustness of the overall profile. Similarly, respondents may indicate a cultural community that the Census Bureau recodes to another cultural community. For example, when respondents indicate that their ancestral heritage is Oromo, the Census Bureau recodes their answer to Ethiopian. In such cases, survey respondents may not identify with their recoded cultural community. This would result in an overestimation.
  4. It’s also why these profiles are close but imperfectly defined cultural communities. We look at a number of self-reported responses to the American Community Survey and combine them to create a profile. We believe our approach is well-reasoned, but we understand and acknowledge that cultural communities define themselves along many more characteristics than we can capture with the variables available in our data source.

Because these profiles are new, we hope to highlight examples of how users are actually using the data. If you are one of these people, please share your story with us. We want to know about it.  Contact Sheri Booms Holm at