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Rotten weather a factor in April construction job losses

April showers this year brought construction job losses, as well as May flowers.

Fishing license sales lagged behind last year’s pace, golf courses opened later than usual, home and garden shops were slow to hire and it was a soggy month for putting in foundations for new construction.

State officials offered those bits of anecdotal data in a conference call with reporters this morning to explain Minnesota’s loss of 5,200 payroll jobs.

At the same time, the state’s official unemployment rate fell 0.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted 6.5 percent in April, compared with the U.S. rate of 9 percent.

Minnesota’s seasonally adjusted job losses stand in contrast to a gain of 244,000 jobs nationwide, based on surveys of employers’ payroll totals.

The contrast to the national trend ““gives me pause,” said Deed Commissioner Mark Phillips. “We need to dig  deeper. I don’t think we can draw any real conclusions at this point until we get a handle on this construction issue.”

Phillips was referring to a decline of 5,700 construction jobs on an adjusted basis. In raw numbers, construction employment actually grew by 2,300 in the month, but that was well below a typical April, according to Steve Hine, DEED Labor Market Information Office research director.

“We are much more prone to seasonal variation than other parts of country, and we had just a miserable April,” Hine pointed out.

Part of the monthly decline was offset by a revision in the March employment figures, which improved from 2,800 jobs gained to 5,500 jobs gained.

In a conference call this morning, Hine and Commissioner Mark Phillips attempted to explain the diverging numbers.

Minnesota lost more than 158,000 jobs from its pre-recession peak employment in February 2008 to the trough in September of that year, Hine said. Since that time, the state has gained back about 24,100 jobs, according to the payroll survey of employers.

But the household survey comes up with a different set of numbers. Hine pointed to a gap of more than 60,000 jobs in Minnesota from the end of the recession to March as measured by the two surveys. “Many states are seeing much stronger growth in payroll employment,” compared with household surveys of unemployment, which is exactly the opposite of Minnesota’s experience, Hine said. The discrepancies are causing many state officials to question some of the technical problems in the two separate data sets.

For example, the payroll survey does not measure the self-employed or those who commute out of state to work.

“I would not say one or the other (number) should be entirely disregarded, but pay attention to the employment survey. The recovery is  not as strong as the unemployment rate would suggest,” Hine concluded.

Leisure and hospitality led all sectors in April, gaining 3,100 jobs. Other job gains occurred in professional and business services (up 2,600), education and health services (up 500), and logging and mining (up 200). Financial activities held steady.

Along with construction, job losses occurred in these sectors: trade, transportation and utilities (down 2,800), other services (down 2,600), manufacturing (down 300), information (down 100) and government (down 100).

Over the past year, professional and business services led all sectors with gains of 8,300 jobs, followed by education and health services (7,900), manufacturing (5,000), logging and mining (400) and information (200).

Job losses occurred over the past year in construction (12,000), trade, transportation and utilities (2,300), government (2,200), leisure and hospitality (1,200), financial activities (1,100) and other services (800).

In the state Metropolitan Statistical Areas, job gains occurred in the past 12 months in the Rochester MSA (0.3 percent), while the Minneapolis-St. Paul MSA was flat. Job losses occurred in the Duluth-Superior MSA (down 0.7 percent), the Mankato MSA (0.4 percent) and the St. Cloud MSA (0.2 percent).

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