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Managing Growth, One Partnership At A Time

Growth seems to typify the Olmsted County experience. The population of the county has grown from 144,000 residents in 2010 to over 154,000 in 2017 – a 7% growth in seven years. Both the City of Rochester and Olmsted County have grown at a faster pace than Minnesota as a whole since 1980. This growth is expected to continue well into the future, with an estimated 20,000 more households coming to Rochester by 2030.

In large part, this is due to the economic growth of Rochester which attracts families to Olmsted County. However, in talking to residents, one gets the sense that there are segments of the community that are not reaching their full potential; the cost of living, lack of affordable housing, and competing demands on a household’s income contributes to that.

Cost of Living

For a family of four in Olmsted County – two kids and two working adults - it is estimated that the cost of living is $78,000 per year. This is accounting for a ‘no frills’ budget covering childcare, food, healthcare, housing, transportation, taxes, and basic necessities like clothes and groceries. The median household income for Olmsted County is $72,000 and the median family income is $90,000. Both of these figures have been steadily growing for many years, and the ‘typical’ family appears able to make ends meet.

But averages can be misleading. In reality, 10% of families with children in Olmsted County live in poverty, and 50% of all families have household incomes below self-sufficiency. Single mothers are particularly likely to live in poverty (34%) as are families with 5 or more children (37%) and African-American families (37%).

In the past nine years, after accounting for inflation, double-income childless couples have seen their household incomes rise, as have single workers without children. But nuclear families have seen flat incomes, and many stepfamilies, boomerang households, and single parents are actually poorer in real terms than they were nine years ago. Rising income levels have not reached all families equally.

United Way’s funded program partners helped 32 people increase their household income to self-sufficient levels in 2018. They did this through educational pathways, job matching services, and financial literacy courses.

Affordable Housing

Rising average incomes, a shortage in housing stock, and a growing population have increased the demand for affordable housing at the same time housing costs have been increasing. Currently, it is estimated that a minimum-wage employee in Olmsted County needs to work 66 hours a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Not surprisingly, 46% of renters (and 21% of homeowners) are burdened by the cost of their housing – paying more than 30% of their income in rent/mortgage/utilities. Despite the high demand for affordable housing, supply has been unable to keep up with demand. It is currently estimated that Rochester will be short at least 2,848 affordable housing units by 2020.

261 people received immediate, short-term shelter through our funded program partners in 2018, and helped 212 people move from immediate, short-term shelter into stable housing. They did this by providing navigation services, providing rent assistance, and re-housing people who have found themselves homeless.

Competing Demands on Household Income

Housing is typically the largest single expense in a family’s budget. That cost has been steadily increasing with time, while family incomes have remained stagnant. The cost of other major expenses has been increasing in recent years as well – childcare and healthcare in particular. It is no surprise that at the end of the month, many families find themselves unable to pay one or more bills. In months with a crisis – illness or injury, job loss, major car repairs – a family may find themselves seeking financial assistance just to make ends meet.

United Way’s funded partners provide financial assistance in various forms, including rent assistance, childcare scholarships, and sliding-scale fees for many services including mental health supports, assistance with daily living activities, and legal services.

United for Us All

Through all of life's barriers, United Way strives to move people toward financial independence. People living in financially unstable homes frequently encounter other foundational quality-of-life needs, such as good health and quality education. Without a stable and family-sustaining income, people can find themselves falling behind rather than moving forward in creating a good quality life for themselves and their families. Together, we're providing job training, financial literacy courses, job coaching, tax filing assistance, and more to help people in our community become more financially stable, one day at a time.