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In 2015, when we posted the first version of “The Minnesota Paradox” commentary on Compass, we highlighted a situation in which delusive information portrayed a population in Minnesota that enjoyed the seemingly highest quality-of-life ratings in the country. In fact, however, too large a proportion of the state’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color residents “couldn’t breathe” – but the most salient data did not demonstrate that.

At that time, The Atlantic and other media heralded Minnesota as a special, almost magical, habitat. Indeed even today, on many measures related to health, educational attainment, voter participation, and other features of life, Minnesotans can speak positively about the relative position of the North Star State among the 50 states.

However, pernicious disparities have existed in the state, which deeper examination of the data reveals as the “Minnesota Paradox.” That is, despite the high quality of life for our population overall, specific groups of residents in our state fare poorly on social and economic measures, and the disparities among racial groups stand among the worst in the nation. Viewing the trends five years ago, we maintained skepticism about the promise of Minnesota’s future for a diverse population, as did other observers, both nationally and locally.

In 2020, the Twin Cities became the epicenter for a global awakening and revolution – ignited specifically by reactions to an episode of police violence, and fueling a broader and more profound effort to eradicate systemic racism that intentionally and unintentionally creates racial disparities. The flashpoint at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, and the sites of legitimate protests and unlawful destruction in South Minneapolis and the Midway of Saint Paul, all exist in census tracts that reflect the gradients of urban life where residential blocks a short distance down the street from one another or across a highway geographically can lie miles apart socially and economically. Reporting data only on the totality of the Twin Cities region obscures the underlying social and economic fissures that produced the epicenter.

Compass has figured notably as a source of objective information to shed light on the quality of life not just for Minnesota’s total population, but also for groups within the population including age groups, racial groups, and different neighborhoods.

Here are a few facts that Compass uncovers about the Twin Cities region’s Black and White residents:

While the Twin Cities region ranks #1 among the largest 25 metro areas in the United States for proportion of adults working, the gap between the proportion of white workers compared with that of Black workers puts our region near the bottom.

Employment Gap, White-Black, rank of metro areas 2014-2018

Overall, among the largest 25 metros, the Twin Cities region comes in #6 for percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, but #21 for the percentage of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Black adults (25+) with a bachelor's degree or higher


Recent Insight articles on Compass also show:

The causes of this paradox defy easy explanation.

What’s going on?

We know, of course, that racism, past and present, produces disadvantages for certain racial groups. The data on disparities reflect that.

But more deeply, we should address the paradox: Why does a state with such high total scores on quality of life also have the largest gaps among races? Why aren’t the gaps average or smaller? Why does this happen in Minnesota? We probably understand some of the reasons, but definitely not all. Mayor Betsy Hodges recently admonished “white liberals” to match their actions with their beliefs, suggesting that policies and initiatives nominally intended to improve the lives of everyone implicitly restrained the progress of some groups, thereby exacerbating racial divides. Erin Aubry Kaplan offered a specific challenge to match words with action: “It’s one thing to declare your support for Black Lives Matter with a lawn sign and quite another to give up segregated schools.”

Compass commits itself to action with others to address the deeply embedded, root causes of disparities and to support the advancement of our state to number one on all measures for all of our residents.