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Mankato is Minnesota’s poorest city. Sort of.

It may look like a pleasant town with a striking amount of available parking, but there's a surprising culprit behind its worst-in-Minnesota poverty rate.

It may look like a pleasant town with a striking amount of available parking, but there's a surprising culprit behind its worst-in-Minnesota poverty rate. Wikimedia

While outstate Minnesota tends to view the Twin Cities as cauldrons of poverty, decay, and untold misery, the stats say otherwise.

Among Minnesota’s largest cities, the poorest aren’t Minneapolis and St. Paul. They’re Mankato and St. Cloud.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one of every four Mankato residents lives in poverty. St. Cloud clocks in at a close second, with 23 percent. The twin towns finish third and fourth, both home to a little more than one out of every five people living below the poverty line.

But contrary to prevailing wisdom, the culprit for outstate cities’ slumping fate isn’t the Mexicans or the East Africans, those go-to villains suitable for blame in any social situation. No, the anchor on the economies of Mankato and St. Cloud is … college kids?

Yes.

Greater Mankato Growth, the city’s chamber of commerce, dug a little deeper into the stats. When it yanked students from the calculations, the city’s poverty rate declined by half. Which, of course, is good news.

Unlike the generational poor, or people without the skills to measurably rise above their current station, students at least have a fighting chance to better their prospects upon graduation. Poverty for most – hopefully – has a reasonable expectation of passing.

Which leads us back to the Twin Cities. Once students are removed from the data, St. Paul becomes Minnesota’s poorest city at 20 percent, followed by Minneapolis at two points lower.

Still, there’s hope buried in these stats as well. Twenty percent of St. Paul residents are foreign-born, mostly from war-torn or impoverished nations. Or both. And since the stats also say that immigrants’ economic status tends to rise with each successive generation, they too shall likely soar. It might just take a little more time.