A reader sent me the Minnesota unemployment map you see here. Unfortunately the source site, Locale Trends, doesn’t date the information, so it’s unclear whether this hot-spots map was made from December ’08 or January ’09 data. In any case it’s a good illustration of the most troubled areas.
I”ll have an interview next week in this space with Kevin Ristau of the Minnesota Jobs Now Coalition, so for now let me preview that talk with an excerpt of his recent testimony at the Capitol on behalf of an emergency jobs bill introduced by DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina:
To demonstrate the need for emergency jobs legislation, I’d like to share some figures from the new Job Vacancy Survey done by the insufficiently appreciated research staff at DEED. They do this survey twice a year; the most recent one looks at the fourth quarter of 2008.
What’s especially valuable about DEED’s research is that it shows not only the number of unemployed workers, or job seekers, throughout the state but also shows the number of unfilled jobs, or job openings. By looking at job openings as well as job seekers, the Job Vacancy Survey provides a more complete picture than the unemployment rate of what the labor market looks and feels like to a worker, especially a worker who either needs a job or wants a better one. What’s more, whereas the unemployment numbers treat all jobs as equal, the job vacancy numbers provide useful information about the quality of job openings: they tell us whether jobs are full-time or part-time, whether they provide health care, how much education or training they require, and, finally, how high the wage levels are.
Over the last few weeks I’ve analyzed this data and created one-page summaries for all thirteen of the state’s economic development regions. You will not be surprised to learn that there is not much good news here—in the three worst-looking regions of the state, job seekers outnumbered job openings by more than 11-to-1. But keep in mind that bad as these numbers are, they don’t fully capture the extent of our current downward spiral, because we’re looking only at fourth quarter data. We don’t have any 2009 job vacancy data and won’t have any until late summer; but we do have unemployment figures for January, so we can already see how much these number have spiked upward since the fourth quarter of last year.
First, let’s look at the Arrowhead region, where there were 12,600 unemployed workers competing for 1,700 unfilled jobs. This means that job seekers outnumbered job openings by more than 7-to-1. During the second half of last year, job openings in the Arrowhead region fell by 56 percent.
At the same time, the median wage for all openings in the region went up 45 percent to $12.00 per hour. Unfortunately, the rise in the regional median wage was not caused by adding more good jobs but by losing more bad jobs. For example, the food preparation and serving occupational group had 90 percent fewer openings than it had six months earlier.
The Southeast Minnesota region was another part of the state where job openings showed a six-month decline of more than 50 percent. Here the survey showed that job seekers outnumbered job openings by six and a half to one, which was identical to the average job gap for all of Greater Minnesota.
The Southeast region also provides a good example of just how understated these figures are; for when we look at the February unemployment data for the region, we see that the number of job seekers rose from a fourth quarter average of about 15,000 to a February figure of about 23,000. Put differently, in the amazingly short time between the fourth quarter of last year to January of this year, the number of job seekers in Southeast Minnesota went up nearly 50 percent.
Standard economic indicators like the unemployment rate paint an incomplete picture of the drastic deterioration of labor market conditions for our workforce. The Job Vacancy Survey tells the story: employers can’t hire–but the workers of Minnesota need jobs.