Students, jobless, poor: A view of MN’s economy from the bus

Lindy Ellenbaum drives the 539 Metro Transit bus from the Mall of America to Best Buy headquarters and back. The recession, he says, is changing who rides and where they go.

Ellenbaum, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, dropped us a note recently calling himself “one of the lucky ones” in this economy because he still has a job and that the mix of students, jobless and low-income folks on his south suburban bus route bus has shifted with the economy.

Ellenbaum told us:

I drive the 539 from the Mall of America to Best Buy Headquarters and back, daily. Along my route I pass the VEAP food shelf on 98th and Irving, and the work force center near Old Shakopee and France. The traffic to VEAP has increased but the traffic to the Work Force Center has dropped off.

Not many going to Work Force Center these days…those going there earlier either got jobs or just gave up. I suspect the latter.

For a while I had a number of people that worked at Best Buy riding my bus, they’re mostly gone now.

There are also a number of mothers with children riding (but) I think the lack of jobs has slowed the immigration into the city…I don’t see so much of that any more.

The number of students riding my bus is also way up. I go through Normandale (community) College 7 times a day and there are four buses from the B line 539 and at least that many from Metro 535 that also go there…

Normandale confirms the student increases. Initial data show Enrollment is up 7 percent this semester over the same time last year, “which includes a nearly 9 percent jump of headcount in new-entering students,” said Normandale spokeswoman Kate Metzger.

Are they adults trying to find their way back into the economy?

“We certainly have seen some adult-returning students, but 66 percent of our students are younger than 25 and 81 percent are younger than 30.” she said.

“We won’t know just how many adult-returners we have until we do our 30th day enrollment analysis.”

Numbers from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development also bear out what Ellenbaum sees. Here’s a look at data from all the workforce centers:

And, yes, the VEAP food shelf also matches up with Ellenbaum’s observations.

Last month the food pantry served 6,400 people, “a record number for us,” said VEAP development director Karin Meier. That’s about 1,000 more then last August.

VEAP supplies five days of food every 30 days to people in need in Bloomington, Edina, Richfield and part of South Minneapolis.

The food shelf, she adds, is seeing larger households needing help — more people being served from one address, “meaning either families, larger families or households that have opened their doors to help others during tough times.”

The kind of people Ellenbaum sees regularly on the bus.

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Drop me a line or post below if you see anything different.

Ride another bus and notice anything interesting re: the economy? Let me know.

Check out the map below to see what others in our Network are saying about the jobs climate in Minnesota. Then share your story.

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