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As Minnesota emerges from recession, let’s not settle for ‘comparatively good’

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.

Craig Helmstetter
Craig Helmstetter

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

Minnesota, 2005-2007

Proportion of adults (age 16-64) working by racial and ethnic group
Compiled by MNCompass, from: Integrated Public Use Microdata Series from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
Note: The estimates shown here are based on data collected between 2005 and 2007, and therefore they describe the average characteristics for that 3-year time period.

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.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/19/2010 - 08:47 am.

    For the groups whose unemployment and underemployment runs particularly high, I can’t help but wonder whether we need new strategies to break the destructive, dysfunctional patterns that have run in these families and communities for generations.

    (Of course we also need to break a very different sent of destructive, dysfunctional patterns in the families of those who believe that self worth and a satisfying life are only to be found in the accumulation, by whatever means necessary, of massive wealth no matter what your efforts to do so do to the people around you or the natural world, and create supporting mythologies – religious or otherwise – that claim every individual is worthy of whatever level of resources he or she can manage to extract from the rest of the world, but that’s actually going to be far more difficult).

    What strategies can we use to move into these neighborhoods and impact these families so that staying away from chemical addictions, avoiding teenaged pregnancy, parents staying together and building stable lives, taking school seriously, doing homework, and graduating with the best grades you can possibly manage, entering post secondary school with the same attitudes and finding financing for post secondary, and being reasonably dependable employees become the norms rather than the opposite, which seems to be the case in so many of these families.

    The family systems in so many of these cultures and these neighborhoods are not working well for the people growing up in them, but since, for them as for us, what their children see in the first few years of their lives becomes what a “normal” family and a “normal” life looks like to them, the same patterns tend to repeat themselves generation to generation in the same way they do in our own families.

    It must be possible to heal the wounds which program each generation with the previous generation’s dysfunctional patterns in ways that almost seem to write unchangeable scripts for the way they will live their lives, but what are they? How do we bring such strategies into play so that these scripts can be erased and the people rehearsing them, day in and day out throughout their lives, can be freed to create new patterns and live in healthier ways?

    Unless we can bring positive approaches to bear to help these people (rich and poor alike) to break out of the dysfunctional patterns by which they live, both will continue to be frustrated, miserable and/or miserly and our society will continue to stratify until the gaping differences between rich and poor causes it to tear itself apart while everyone blames everyone else for what went wrong.

    Skinner was not correct when he said you can get rid of “bad” behavior with punishment (at least not this kind of “bad” behavior). Indeed, it often seems as if punishment that’s too severe is what causes dysfunctional behavioral scripts to be written – scripts which guarantee that the same behavior will return repeatedly.

    Sadly, we’ve tried the “punish the poor” approach for decades and it hasn’t worked. Only by helping people break out of the patterns that their parents and communities have inadvertently wounded into them can we help them break out of those patterns and live healthier, more prosperous lives.

    But how do we do this in positive, life-enhancing ways which attract and offer hope to those needing such help rather than just offering them a handout or punishing them for not doing what seems “normal” to us (which may be equally dysfunctional, but in different ways).

    How do we develop strategies to help people break out of their dysfunctional, destructive scripted patterns? How do we offer them the healing they need to be and do better, then entice and invite them to use those strategies to change their lives and thereby, from the ground up, change our society? There must be ways. They may not necessarily even be expensive. Can we find them? Can we discover how best to use them?

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