MINNEAPOLIS — Thursday morning at Joyce Uptown Food Shelf offered a glimpse at the contradictions at play in our local economy right now.
On one hand, the food shelf has never had more food coming in. A truck from Second Harvest Heartland was busy delivering several pallets of shelf stable food and pantry staples that will fill the basement of the food shelf for the next couple of days.
But those deliveries are costing them more due to inflation in recent years, and even though they've found new ways to partner with local grocery stores to expand access to fresh produce, bread and other perishables, they still struggle to keep up with demand.
Matthew Ayres: "This morning we went to four different grocery stores and we got food. We got two vanloads of food and all of that food will be gone. Our shelves will be empty tonight and we'll refill them tomorrow from a different grocery store."
Kent Erdahl: "All of this food?"
Ayres: "All of this food, with the exception of some of these cans, will be gone tomorrow."
Joyce Uptown Food Shelf has been around since 1969, but Ayres says they have never seen demand like they have in the last couple years.
Erdahl: "We were here last summer, and at that time you had never seen levels the way they were. You're saying it hasn't gotten better in the last year?"
Ayres: "It hasn't, it's continued to rise. We had a record in May, we had a record in June, we had a record in July, and in August we hit another record, so we're serving more people than we ever have, putting out more food than we ever have and we're getting more people knocking on our door that have never come through our door before looking for food assistance."
Minnesota's state demographer, Susan Brower, says the Census Bureau's 2022 American Community Survey is giving us some insight into how that income struggle is playing out more broadly.
"We're seeing that paychecks are increasing between 2021 and 2022, but they haven't increased as much as inflation has, so we've seen real median household income decline in this last year's period," Brower said.
Inflation-adjusted median household income in Minnesota has fallen 4.5% between 2019 and 2022, and 5.6% in the Twin Cities. That's a steeper decline than the national median. The last time the median household income declined like this came during the Great Recession.
The poverty rate in Minnesota also increased slightly in 2022, with 9.6% of Minnesotans now at or below the poverty line, but Brower says it's still nearly 2 percent lower than it was when it peaked in 2014.
Brower also points out that both unemployment and inflation data have improved in Minnesota since the 2022 survey.
Brower: "This is showing us a moment in time, but doesn't necessarily reflect where we are today toward the end of 2023."
Erdahl: "There just seems to be a lot of different numbers telling us a lot of different things, so where should we think about where we're at right now?"
Brower: "Big picture, we have not returned to where we were before the pandemic. We still remain at a place that's challenging for a lot of Minnesota families."
Ayres says the food shelf is witness to that every day.
"People who are poor are staying poor," he said. "People in our middle class are kind of being cut into different sections. We're serving about 300 more families than we were last summer, every month."
But he says a more recent drop in financial donations may concern him even more.
"I worry that people that assume they're doing well, don't have that little extra money to give away," he said. "If people who have money aren't giving it, it kind of shows something is going on and people are holding on to what they have as opposed to sharing it out."
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