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Food shelf use is the 'new normal' in Minnesota, hunger group says

Unemployment is falling, so why is food shelf use still rising?

The number of Minnesotans using food shelves hit a record high in 2017, according to analysis of state data by Hunger Solutions.

Visits to food shelves across the state numbered 3,402,077 last year, marking the 7th consecutive year – since the depths of the financial crisis – that the number has exceeded 3 million.

"In other words, since the recession, it's become the 'new normal' in Minnesota," Hunger Solutions Executive Director Colleen Moriarity said in a news release.

Food shelf visits up in the majority of Minnesota counties between 2013-17, its study found, with usage tripling in Kittson County, on Minnesota's northwestern border.

Of those using food shelves, 54.9 percent of them were in the Twin Cities metro area, with central Minnesota the next highest with 11.5 percent of total visits.

Children represented 36.4 percent of food shelf usage in the state, totaling more than 1.2 million visits, while elderly visits has risen by 39.3 percent since 2012, totaling 308,609 visits in 2017.

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Why is food shelf use rising?

Moriarity says that food shelf usage rose with unemployment in the wake of the recession.

But now unemployment is falling and median incomes are above the national average, yet still we're seeing a record number of Minnesotans are still struggling to put food on the table.

This hints at the widening gap between the rich and the poor, as well as the racial economic disparities that continue to exist in Minnesota – particularly the Twin Cities.

Peg Keenan, of the ICA Food Shelf in Minnetonka, told the Star Tribune in December that unemployment statistics don't show the full situation of those who aren't making a living wage.

Some are technically employed but are having to work two or three jobs – with no health care or benefits – to make ends meet, she said.

Even though the typical Minnesota household income is above average, there hasn't really been much of a wage rise since the financial downturn.

Median incomes rose by just 7.89 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to The Department of Numbers, and with adjustments for inflation Minnesotans are barely in a better position than they were in 2005.

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