Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, Minnesota has gradually recovered from the wave of job losses that hit the nation.
In fact, the state has emerged from the ruins of the crisis boasting some of the most robust job creation figures in the country: Minnesota added more than 40,000 jobs in 2015 alone, and the state’s unemployment rate currently stands at 3.5 percent, among the lowest in the nation.
But even as Minnesota recovered from job loss during the recession, income inequality has persisted, as have substantial racial disparities in income and employment between the state’s white citizens and those of color.
With that in mind, MinnPost’s Good Jobs beat will explore one of the most fundamental aspects of the state’s economy and quality of life: jobs. Specifically, what makes for a good job, what industries provide them, and what role can government, nonprofits, businesses and individuals play in creating more of those jobs in Minnesota. To kick off that coverage, we've compiled the latest data to create a snapshot of Minnesota's current jobs climate — and what it may look like in the future.
What's the definition of a “good job”?
Depends on whom you ask, of course, but according to Concordia University economist Bruce Corrie, a good job offers a “reasonable living wage,” a competitive benefits package and good working conditions with opportunities to advance. Likewise, Corrie said, a good job provides “a culture of innovation, creativity, openness and friendliness. It is a place for efficiency and productivity and also a place that is concerned about the community at large.” The latter topics, benefits and workplace culture, will be addressed as part of MinnPost's coverage going forward; for this story, we'll focus on the issue of wages.
So what does “reasonable living wage” mean when it comes to a paycheck?
It depends on a host of factors, the big ones being family size and where people live. For a two-parent, two-child household, for example, each parent would need to make at least $21 an hour to provide “basic needs,” according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). That translates into a combined household income of $87,000 a year. The numbers for a single parent are particularly daunting. One parent with two children, according to DEED, needs a job that brings in more than $37 per hour, or $77,000 a year, to meet basic needs in the Twin Cities.
How many people have jobs that provide a decent standard of living in Minnesota?
According to census data, 41 percent of households in Minnesota make less than $50,000 a year, while 60 percent make less than $75,000. (To put that in perspective, a $50,000 yearly salary equates to a $25 hourly wage doing full-time work.) Even for those who do meet DEED's living wage standard, however, the numbers come with a significant caveat: “It should be noted that the cost of living results represent neither a poverty-living nor a middle-class living, but rather a simple living that meets basic needs for health and safety,” said Tim O’Neill, a regional analyst with DEED. “There is no money built in for savings, vacations, entertainment, eating out, tobacco, or alcohol, even though some of these things may be considered part of a normal healthy life.”
In what industries are those jobs currently found?
According to DEED, the occupational groups that currently provide a living wage include everything from office and administrative support to legal occupations, though many of the groups with the highest wages have some relationship to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Besides management and legal occupations, for instance, the highest median wages in the state are found in computer and mathematics occupations, followed closely by architecture and engineering jobs.
|Occupational Group||MN Employment||Median Wage|
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||409,100||$17.27|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||160,390||$31.54|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||159,970||$30.37|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||156,090||$22.72|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||94,310||$21.52|
|Computer and Mathematical Occupations||91,560||$37.96|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||91,240||$24.88|
|Architecture and Engineering Occupations||50,980||$34.76|
|Community and Social Services Occupations||49,210||$20.51|
|Protective Service Occupations||43,660||$19.43|
|Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media Occupations||36,430||$21.82|
|Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations||24,410||$30.29|
|Occupational Group||MN Employment||Median Wage|
|Sales and Related Occupations||270,540||$13.24|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||228,640||$9.21|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||167,130||$16.18|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||120,000||$11.11|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||89,360||$13.63|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||81,560||$12.03|
|Farming, Fishing, and Forestry Occupations||3,570||$14.41|
So which industries are most likely to offer good jobs in the future?
The big one is health care. “Health care in Minnesota has shown a remarkable growth in recent years,” said O'Neill. Indeed, the following health care occupations rank among the state’s most in-demand jobs: registered nurses; nursing assistants; personal care aides; and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses. The pay for these jobs range significantly, however. The median wage for a registered nurse in Minnesota, for instance, is about $72,000 (or about $35/hour), whereas a medical assistant earns about $34,900 ($17/hour); and a medical secretary can make around $39,000 ($19/hour). After health care, other industries that are also in demand include occupations in information technology (IT), manufacturing, construction and truck driving.
What are the biggest barriers for people who don’t have good jobs in Minnesota?
Education is the major one, a factor that is inextricably tied to race in Minnesota. Most of the state's well-paying jobs require a bachelor’s degree, a qualification where there are significant disparities between whites and certain minority groups. The educational disparities are even more stark when it comes to the 180,000 adults in Minnesota have not attained their high school diploma or equivalent — workers who have the most limited options to achieve economic independence.
Unemployment is another issue that disproportionately affects communities of color in Minnesota, said Andi Egbert, an assistant director at the state demographic center. “We have very wide disparities among groups in employment and labor force participation,” Egbert explained. “We also see some groups — for example, Mexican-Minnesotans — who have very, very high labor participation, and yet have very, very low earnings.”
What will the future of the work force look like in Minnesota?
A lot different from the way it looks today. The front edge of the baby boom generation is hitting retirement age, Egbert added, and Minnesota does not have the work force right now to replace those workers.