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A look at who’s been left out of Minnesota’s economic recovery

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
James Daniel is one of thousands of Minnesotans who are struggling to find employment amid economic recovery and job growth in the state.

James Daniel doesn’t remember the last time he had a real job.

For many years, he’s bounced back and forth between jobs as a truck driver, construction worker and personal security guard. But none of them came with benefits. No health care. No retirement plans. No paid sick leave.

“It’s rough out there,” he noted. “Especially for us, African-Americans, it’s hard to find a career where you can be there for 10, 20 years. And if you find one, it’s hard to stay there. There are a lot of obstacles you have to go through.”

Since the end of the Great Recession, Minnesota has emerged boasting an enviable economic record, with an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent and nearly 28,000 jobs added over the past year, according to the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development.

But as Daniel knows well, the good times aren’t being shared by all Minnesotans. A recent report released by the Minnesota Budget Project — an initiative of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits that provides research and analysis on budget issues — reveals that many racial and ethnic groups continue to face high unemployment rates. Indeed, the people in Minnesota who are most likely to be unemployed tend to be young, less educated, single parents and those of color — the very same groups who were also hit the hardest during the recession.

Groups most likely to be unemployed

Minnesotans who don’t have a high school diploma or college degree are most likely to be unemployed, said Clark Biegler, a policy analyst with the Minnesota Budget Project, who authored the report. In fact, Minnesotans without high school education are four times more likely to be unemployed than those who completed high school.

Over 9 percent of individuals who didn’t graduate from high school were unemployed in 2015; compared to 5 percent for those with a high school diploma.

Minnesota Budget Project


Another factor is age. The unemployment rate for Minnesotans between 16 and 24 was more than 6 percent last year, the highest for any age group. (During the recession, the rate reached as high as 13 percent.)

Compared to other groups, in fact, older people are doing better. For those between 45 and 64, unemployment was 2.8 percent; for the 25- to 44-year-olds, it was 3.6 percent.

Minnesota Budget Project

Another group also facing serious levels of joblessness is single parents. In fact, at 5 percent in 2015, the unemployment rate for single parents was more than twice that of married couples. Last year, unemployment among married couples with children was 2.1 percent; for those without children, it was 2 percent. 

Minnesota Budget Project

The most striking disparities were around race and employment. The report indicates that unemployment for black Minnesotans was 11.7 percent last year, compared to 3.2 for whites.

Since the recession, unemployment has improved for each group. In 2007, for instance, the unemployment rate for African-Americans was 14.5 percent; for whites, 4 percent.

Minnesota Budget Project

Structural barriers

Whether the groups are categorized as young, single or uneducated, the unemployment disparity mainly falls on the communities of color. That’s because people of color are more likely to be young or have lower education levels, Biegler noted.

But there is more to the unemployment issue than just those barriers. Biegler said racial discrimination also plays a crucial role in the unemployment disparity communities of color face. For example, even when researchers controlled for age and education, they still found high rates of unemployment among communities of color compared to whites.

“That definitely points to structural barriers in the labor market for people of color,” Biegler explained. “And that certainly includes unintentional or intentional discrimination.”

State Rep. Rena Moran
State Rep. Rena Moran

State Rep. Rena Moran echoed the same sentiment: “These communities are looking for work. They’re doing their due diligence to find jobs and they’re not getting hired. And some of that, we know, is because of discrimination.”

Biegler noted that the structure of the state’s workforce and education systems as well as transportation and housing decisions can either create barriers or opportunities for workers.

That’s why she’s urging lawmakers to come up with a plan to remove barriers to employment for the affected communities. One way to do that, Biegler and Moran suggested, is to expand access to affordable child care, given its ability to help parents in the labor market — and to help employers hire and retain employees.

Minnesota currently has a program, Basic Sliding Fee, which helps parents pay for child care as they look for jobs or participate in the workforce. But this program doesn’t guarantee access for every family — with many counties putting parents on a waiting list because the program can only offer services to a limited number of people.

Today, more than 7,000 families are on the waiting list for the program — and most of them come from Hennepin, Anoka and Dakota counties. Biegler also urged lawmakers to increase funding for the Basic Sliding Fee so thousands of low-income working parents can access the program.  

Clark Biegler
Clark Biegler

Biegler has also called for state officials to underwrite a law that would allow parents to take earned sick time. Last month, Minneapolis has become the first city in the state to pass such law requiring employers with six or more staffers to offer paid sick leave.     

Moran and Biegler want to see the same benefit extended to the more than one million Minnesota workers who don’t currently have it.

For James Daniel, access to sick leave is important. That’s why he enrolled in construction courses at Summit Academy OIC in February — and why he set a goal for himself: To secure a career that would not only give him a reliable income, but also benefits. “I know a lot of people who gave up on finding work,” he said. “But I know me; I’m going to work. Period!”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/28/2016 - 11:27 am.

    Good luck to these two women and those who partner with them to improve the jobs situation for huge swaths of our population!

    But they should be aware that, according to the Star Tribune in articles and a strong editorial last week against worker rights to sick leave, Republican legislators are at work forging a state law that not only would pre-empt Minneapolis, St. Paul and any other Minnesota city or municipality from setting up a sick-leave policy: They want to design a state law that would prohibit ANY law requiring a business to permit sick leave to be earned by employees.

    These Republicans are working with the Chamber of Commerce and a major Minneapolis business consortium to push back against worker benefits of the sort this article rightly champions. Let’s beware this anti-worker move!

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 06/28/2016 - 12:05 pm.

    Single Parents?

    I’d be interested to know the breakdown between single parents who had children while married, then divorced vs. those who had children out of wedlock. Another key component is not having children until your financially ready to do so.

  3. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/28/2016 - 01:55 pm.


    It is clear that there are factors that discriminate in employment. What is also clear is that we don’t know what those factors are – are they intentional or the result of something else? What’s interesting is that, while it’s relatively easy to intentionally discriminate based on gender or race (things you might be able to glean from names, educational background, or meeting the potential employee), how does it happen that married people with or without kids do better than singletons…with or without kids. I think a glaring clue that we don’t understand all the factors is that the unemployment rate among singletons without kids is similar to single parents’ (though, to be fair, the rate was historically higher for single parents). A factor that might discriminate against single parents, no paid sick leave, shouldn’t affect singletons without kids any more than married individuals. Yet, there are the numbers. Is it possible that singletons without kids don’t necessarily have an external impediment, but rather their need for a job (and thus their work ethic) doesn’t extend beyond themselves? Other factors, such as education level, are a mix of applicant and environment. While I believe that many jobs demand a higher education than actually needed (I have very cynical views as to why, but that’s a different topic), there are not enough jobs that don’t require a higher education. But, probably just as big a problem, is that jobs that don’t require a higher education pay so little in many cases that people simply can’t afford to work them with rents being outrageous and only so many hours in a week.

    I applaud these two women for pushing for some of the more obvious solutions (e.g., paid sick leave), but we also need to be looking for solutions for the more subtle problems.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/28/2016 - 04:55 pm.

      Even More Curious

      “groups are categorized as young, single or uneducated, the unemployment disparity mainly falls on the communities of color.”

      Even more curious is that folks continue to look for other causal factors rather than demanding more from our public education system and the Parent’s of these left behind children… I know this may sound silly, but employers want smart educated people who communicate well, show up for work and get along with their peers, bosses and customers.

      Now would you want to hire someone who was unable to graduate high school, has poor communication skills and/or is unreliable for your small business. For some reason some folks keep wanting to point fingers at the employers when the unemployment rate for educated adults in MN is very low. If you want to improve the situation… Increase the graduation rates and decrease the number of single parent households.

      See pg 17

  4. Submitted by Mike martin on 06/28/2016 - 10:23 pm.

    The unemployment rate is a relevant as a rotary phone

    i don’t understand the focus on the unemployment. Unless its for politicians & government officials to hide how bad a job they are doing.

    The relevant statistic is the percentage of people employed. Which is still well below the pre recession peak

    Unemployment don’t include people who have given up looking for work because the have looked for months/years without finding a job.

    Have you or do you know someone that has been contacted by the Federal Department of Labor to see if you have a job or not? I don’t. If no one knows anyone who has been contacted, how can we trust the statistics from the Dept. of Labor?

  5. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 06/29/2016 - 12:42 am.

    Black Unemployment

    I am curious of specifically why Mr. Daniels can’t find full time employment. I know that there is a drastic shortage for over the road truck drivers. Every trucking company I know of is constantly looking for drivers. These jobs can pay $40K+ / yr. Is there a specific reason he can’t find employment in that industry?

  6. Submitted by Mike Downing on 07/03/2016 - 11:55 am.

    Difference between liberals and conservatives…

    The story of this man is heartbreaking. However, it reminds me of the difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals think we should be equal at the finishing line. Whereas, conservatives think we should be equal at the starting line.

    For example, did this man choose to reject his educational opportunities? If so, that was his choice and he needs to live with the consequences of his choices.

    This article as many articles in the MSM focus on race and gender when they should focus on education and valuing an education as well as being life long learners.

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