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Kyle Potter, The Forum, Published November 27 2013

Many problems persist while economy takes off

Fargo-Moorhead - The suffering in Fargo-Moorhead is tucked away in pockets around the metro and shrouded by the stories of a lightning-fast economy and personal income growth.

But it’s here.

You see it in growing lines at food pantries and at homeless shelters, stretched past capacity because more children are on the streets. You can find it in waiting lists for affordable housing, too.

“You can’t walk down the street and notice who’s poor and who’s hungry. It’s easy to act like it doesn’t exist,” said Tai Clark, family services director for the Salvation Army in Fargo. “If you don’t go to places, you might not see them. But they’re here. They’re just covered so well.”

They’re the stories of the people who haven’t been able to hitch a ride on the area’s immense growth – fueled by rising crop prices and the western North Dakota oil boom – that made Fargo-Moorhead’s economy the eighth-fastest-growing among U.S. metropolitan areas since 2007, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ database of gross domestic product growth.

They’re the stories of the people who haven’t benefitted from a drastic increase in median household income – up by more than 12 percent in both Cass and Clay counties, while the national average has increased by just 1 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey between 2007 and 2012. Roughly one in nine Clay and Cass County residents still lives in poverty.

And they’re the stories about the 3 percent of Fargo-Moorhead residents who can’t find work.

Today marks the beginning of The Forum’s occasional series “Those Left Behind,” which will reveal some of the metro area’s social and socioeconomic problems that have persisted – if not worsened – while its economy took off.

“There are many things going on in this city that you don’t know about,” said Paul Aladin, who runs a food pantry out of the Tri-City Haitian Ministry in north Fargo. “The state is doing well, but people are struggling.”

Part of the problem, community leaders say, is that there’s not just one issue. The problems are entwined in an indiscernible cycle where poverty, hunger, underemployment and unemployment, medical bills and other factors combine to make even a low cost of living unattainable for some.

Fighting the root of a problem is more difficult when there are several roots, Aladin said.

“If we fight hunger, we fight poverty. If we fight poverty, we fight crime,” he said. “Everything is a chain.”