Things are looking comparatively good here in Minnesota. While the end of the recession seems very slow in coming, some employers have started adding jobs, and at 7 percent the state’s unemployment rate is well below the national rate of 9.6 percent.
This “comparative good,” however, is likely not reaching all Minnesotans.
In fact, the recession has been more like a full-blown depression for some groups and a slump for others. Nationally, for example, September’s unemployment rate was over 14 percent for those without high school diplomas, but only 4.5 percent for those with at least a bachelor’s degree.
Particularly troublesome racial disparities
Unfortunately, employment disparities also follow lines of race and ethnicity, and these racial disparities are particularly troublesome here in Minnesota.
For example, according to a recent report by the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, the Twin Cities unemployment rate for African-Americans is three times higher than for whites. That gives us the worst black-white employment gap among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. In a local presentation earlier this fall, the report’s author suggested that the gap is not explained away by the relatively small population of African-Americans in our region, nor by the area’s relatively large population of African refugees.
Regrettably, these disparities also hold for the state as a whole. For example, according to census data that we’re tracking as a part of Minnesota Compass, the proportion of adults working in Minnesota ranges from a high of 79 percent for whites to 71 percent for Latinos and some Asians, and under 60 percent for American Indians and African-Americans born in the United States. These huge gaps might strike some as surprising, given our state’s “comparatively good” overall ranking as second most employed state in the nation.
Proportion of adults (age 16-64) working by racial and ethnic group
We need all students to succeed
The state’s population is changing. Minnesota’s future workforce is bound to be more diverse. Currently less than one in seven working-age adults is a person of color, but roughly one in four school-aged kids is a student of color, and one in seven is either an immigrant or a child of immigrant parents. To guarantee our state’s future we need all of these students to succeed, and their success depends on everything from strong schools and well-trained teachers to stable homes and gainfully employed parents.
Smart entrepreneurs do not rest on their laurels, but rather capitalize on emerging trends that others may be slower to recognize. As we emerge from the great recession, let’s not settle for comparatively good. Our state’s longer-term prosperity depends on it.
Craig Helmstetter, Ph.D., is a researcher at the Wilder Foundation, where he works on Minnesota Compass, a nonpartisan community indicators project supported by a consortium of foundations.