New study ranks Minnesota as fifth worst state for Latinos

Since Gov. Wendell Anderson was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in 1973 above the headline "The Good Life in Minnesota," the state has put a lot of stock in its status as a great place to live.

But that good life might not be available to all Minnesotans in equal proportion, with a new study ranking Minnesota among the worst states for Latinos to live.

It's a stark reminder of persistent wealth and educational achievement gaps that have plagued the state for decades, becoming a centerpiece issue in local politics and a black mark on the state's legacy for Minnesotans of all stripes.

"I was saddened [to hear the numbers], but I wasn’t surprised," said Alberto Monserrate, a former Minneapolis Public School Board Chair. "If there’s been something that’s been consistent in everybody I’ve talked to--no matter what their background is--is that this is something Minnesotans are embarrassed about."

In the recent study conducted by 24/7 Wall Street, Minnesota was ranked the fifth worst state for Latinos--the largest behind Nebraska.

The agency looked at a variety of factors to determine the best and worst states for Latinos, including poverty rates, educational performance, public health data and homeownership, among other things.

West Virginia was ranked the best state for Latinos, who represent the largest-growing demographic in the country. Massachusetts came in last, with large disparities in almost every category. 

Despite the rankings, even researchers say it's important to consider states' numbers in the context of their overall success, because metrics and statistics can often hide the harsh reality of many residents even in the highest-ranked states.

Perhaps the worst mark on Minnesota's report card was represented by the state's stubborn educational achievement gaps--culminating in a more than 33 percent difference in high school graduation rates between white students and Latino students. 

Monserrate blames the problem on a lack of urgency, hoping in the future initiatives like a recently implemented early childhood learning program or a mentorship program for parents. Catching the problem early, experts say, is key to closing the education gap not just for Latino students, but all students raised in poverty.

"Minnesota, I would argue--relative to the rest of the states in the country--understands this problem and is doing more to address the problem than almost any other state," said Arthur Rolnick, a University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs Fellow. "We’re funding that program now up to about $70 million a year--but we have to maybe triple or quadruple that so that every child born into poverty will start school healthy and ready to learn."