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Residents have struggled in a challenging economy

The rate at which Dakota County homes were foreclosed on declined from 2008 to 2009, but that's hardly a guarantee tough economic times are over in the south metro.

There were 1,859 foreclosures in Dakota County in 2009. That is below the record 2,052 that took place in 2008, but it's still more than 2007's total of 1,580, which at the time was a county record by more than 700.

And last year's decline doesn't tell the whole story. According to Dakota County's biannual indicators report, a breakdown of numbers in several categories that help paint a picture of life in the county, the number of pendency notices increased by 25 percent from 2008 to 2009. Those notices, essentially a first step toward foreclosure, do not always lead to a resident losing his or her house, but they reinforce the notion that even when people manage to pay their bills many are struggling.

According to the report, 2.6 percent of Dakota County homes received a notice of pendency in 2009, and Rosemount had the fourth highest pendency rate.

Homelessness in Dakota County has increased 38 percent since 2007. A January, 2009 survey found 503 Dakota County residents living either on the streets or in a car. An additional 299 were precariously housed -- living with family or friends, in motels or in shelters.

Debra Miller, management analyst for the county's office of planning and analysis management, said the numbers paint a picture of a county where the housing market is in turmoil.

The job market has gone through similar struggles late in the decade. The unemployment rate in Dakota County has climbed steadily in recent years, though it was below state and national rates in 2009.

The median household income in Dakota County actually climbed from 70,502 in 2006 to $71,883 in 2008. But the increase did not keep pace with the rate of inflation. Among metropolitan counties only Carver County's median income kept pace with inflation.

Dakota County's poverty rate declined slightly over the same time period, from 4.9 percent in 2006 to 4.8 percent in 2008.

According to the American Community Survey, in 2008 Dakota County had the metropolitan area's lowest percentage of families with members younger than 18 living in poverty.

There are other signs families are struggling. Public assistance caseloads have more than doubled since 2000 in Dakota County. In 2009 there were 49 active public assistance cases per 1,000 residents, up from 43 in 2008 and 24 in 2000.

Food shelf use is also up dramatically.

The past decade has been a struggle for some in Dakota County. And it appears it times will remain difficult for at least the near future.