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What does it mean to have a good job in Minnesota? Here’s what the data say

A snapshot of what the current job climate looks like in Minnesota — and what it’s expected to look like in the future.

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.

Unemployment rate: Twin Cities, Minnesota, U.S.
Twin Cities unemployment rate is for the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington Metropolitan Statistical Area.

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.

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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.”

Household income levels, Minnesota
Source: U.S. Census 2014 American Community Survey

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 groups with median wages above Minnesota’s cost-of-living
Occupational GroupMN EmploymentMedian Wage
Office and Administrative Support Occupations409,100$17.27
Production Occupations217,830$16.61
Management Occupations165,730$47.47
Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations160,390$31.54
Business and Financial Operations Occupations159,970$30.37
Education, Training, and Library Occupations156,090$22.72
Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations94,310$21.52
Computer and Mathematical Occupations91,560$37.96
Construction and Extraction Occupations91,240$24.88
Architecture and Engineering Occupations50,980$34.76
Community and Social Services Occupations49,210$20.51
Protective Service Occupations43,660$19.43
Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media Occupations36,430$21.82
Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations24,410$30.29
Legal Occupations18,330$38.48
Occupational groups with median wages below Minnesota’s cost-of-living
Occupational GroupMN EmploymentMedian Wage
Sales and Related Occupations270,540$13.24
Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations228,640$9.21
Transportation and Material Moving Occupations167,130$16.18
Personal Care and Service Occupations120,000$11.11
Healthcare Support Occupations89,360$13.63
Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations81,560$12.03
Farming, Fishing, and Forestry Occupations3,570$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.

Minnesotans with a bachelor’s degree or higher
Includes people between the ages of 25 and 64.
Minnesotans without a high school diploma
Includes people between the ages of 25 and 64 without a high school diploma or equivalent credential.

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.”

Estimated unemployment rate by cultural group, 2010-2014
Unemployment rate represents a 5-year average from 2010-14. Using a 5-year window was necessary to get reasonably accurate data for cultural groups with small populations — even though the economy has improved in the state in recent years.

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.

Minnesota labor force (seasonally adjusted)
After growing steadily during the 1990s, Minnesota’s labor force has begun to level off. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development expects the labor force growth to hit its lowest point between 2020 and 2025, with average annual growth of only 0.1 percent.