Dee DePass has been a Star Tribune business reporter since 1993, covering small business, financial institutions, manufacturing and, most recently, the economy. Originally from New York, Dee came to Minnesota after earning her master's in journalism at the University of Maryland and her undergraduate degree at Vassar College.

Could falling gas prices boost jobs and travel during Memorial Day weekend?

Posted by: Dee DePass under Travel Updated: May 21, 2012 - 2:47 PM

Falling gas prices and an uptick in job security could boost travel and job growth this summer, said global outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas in a release Monday.

Company CEO John Challenger said, he expects that declining gas prices and improving job security "could entice more Americans to take advantage of vacation days during the upcoming peak travel season, which begins with the Memorial Day holiday....Lower gas prices make it far less painful for [workers] to hop in the car and get out of town for a long weekend."

Gas prices are still averaging about $3.69 a gallon. That's down from the $3.89 of just a few weeks ago. A recent report from the American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that 31 million Americans will hit the road in cars this coming holiday weekend, more than last year.

Gas prices aside, the summer economy could be helped by another trend.

Employers are beginning to shift from slashing workers to worrying about retaining workers, Challenger said. That shift bodes well for employees who have been too overworked and worried about potential layoffs to take time away from the office. That's beginning to shift, Challenger and other job placement firms report. 

If true, summer travel could see the first significant bump in years and that should translate into more job creation and help the leisure and hospitality industry, Challenger said.

In March the sector added 804,000 workers as more bars and restaurants added staff during a surge of warm weather. That hiring was up from 691,000 in March 2011. In April, the Labor Department reported that the nation added 322,000 hospitality jobs.

Mass layoffs continue, but numbers fall to 2006 levels.

Posted by: Dee DePass under Unemployment Updated: May 16, 2012 - 5:16 PM

A U.S. Department of Labor report Wednesday shows the economy is making progress but that worried workers are not completely out of danger just yet. The Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the following:

• Employers in the private nonfarm sector initiated 1,077 mass layoff events in the first quarter of 2012, resulting in the separation of 182,101 workers from their jobs for at least 31 days.

• Compared to a year ago, total mass layoff events and associated worker separations are down from 1,490 and 225,456, respectively.

• Total layoff events reached their lowest first quarter levels since 2006.

• Mass layoff events in the manufacturing sector declined to their lowest levels in the history of data collection, which dates to 1995.

Economic Policy Institute reports sobering wage data for college graduates

Posted by: Dee DePass under Compensation Updated: May 16, 2012 - 11:03 AM

“Congratulations and sorry about that.’’

That’s the message to college graduates all in the same breath from the The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington, D.C.

The Institute found the wages of young graduates "fared poorly during the Great Recession and its aftermath."

Wages sunk 4.6 percent between 2007 and 2011, with wages for men falling 5.1 percent and wages for women falling 4.1 percent. Job winning graduates in 2011 earned about $16.81 an hour or $35,000-a-year.

While the recession played a major role in the decline, that's not the whole story.

EPI researchers found a "period of general wage stagnation" between 2000–2007. Combine that stretch with the recession and the lackluster recovery that followed, and you face more sobering stats.

"Between 2000 and 2011, the wages of young college graduates dropped 5.4 percent (1.6 percent for men and 8.5 percent for women)," the report said.

The economists also found the post-2000 wage drop stood in sharp contrast to the big wage gains of 1995 to 2000, when there was low unemployment.

During that stretch, wages for freshly minted college grads jumped 19.1 percent (18.7 percent for men and 19.5 percent for women). Makes one long for the good old days.

University career centers across the state of Minnesota report an uptick in hiring interest from corporate recruiters. More graduates are getting jobs or internships than in previous years. But many of the lucky grads come from a pool of select majors, such as engineering, economics, marketing, and IT.

TakeAction Minnesota wants meeting with Target Corp. to discuss hiring policies for past convicts.

Posted by: Dee DePass under Discrimination, Job-searching Updated: May 10, 2012 - 11:18 AM

A 20-minute demonstration with 200 people outside Target's Minneapolis headquarters Wednesday has prompted HR officials to consider meeting with the advocacy group TakeAction Minnesota regarding its hiring practices. TakeAction officials said a meeting is set for May 29th but Target officials declined to comment about a meeting date.

TakeAction officials want Target to change its hiring practices to allow former convicts to be considered for and hired for certain jobs.

TakeAction alleges that Target's hiring policy refuses to consider any job candidate with a criminal record and that that disproportionately affects people of color.

During Wednesday’s rally, TakeAction had two women speak who had applied for jobs at Target but were turned down. One was convicted of making a verbal threat against a relative nearly a decade ago. Another served time for possessing methamphetamines, but since had a developed a solid career as a social worker. Both women were denied employment at Target because of their criminal record, said TakeAction spokeswoman Greta Bergstrom.

Target officials disagreed. In a statement, Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said: "The existence of a criminal record does not disqualify a candidate for employment at Target, unless it indicates an unreasonable risk to the safety and welfare of our guests, our team members or our property."

Snyder added that "Target is committed to following all federal, state and local laws. Target's background check process is carefully designed to ensure that we provide a safe and secure working and shopping experience for our team members and guests while treating all candidates fairly."

Julie Schmid, spokeswoman for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Minneapolis, said that the EEOC recently issued new guidelines to help employers figure out how to properly screen job candidates with criminal records without violating Title VII of the law. Schmid said that employers must consider the age of the victim when the crime occurred; their age now; the relevance of the crime to the job being offered; the candidate's employment record, and any rehab, education and training done since the crime originally occurred.

Such additional guidelines should help employers screen candidates while also providing a means for former convicts to still earn a living, she said.

Schmid declined to comment specifically on the Target and TakeAction dispute. But she added: "I think it's important for both parties to become familiar with our new guidelines on background check policies. Beyond that, it's a little too early for us to say anything."

Construction trade groups launch anti-drug policies

Posted by: Dee DePass under Construction Updated: May 9, 2012 - 3:30 PM

Five national construction trade associations teamed up Wednesday to form the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace (CCDAFW).

The new coalition aims to provide companies with information to implement drug- and alcohol-free policies and drug testing for workers on jobsites.

The goal is to insure that workers operating machinery, driving, digging and working around construction sites are sober and fully focused. That will go a long way to preventing accidents, organizers said.

The new nationwide effort urges construction firm owners and managers to sign a pledge that promises that they will create anti-substance abuse policies for the workplace. CCDAFW organizers said they plan to list the pledges and signatures online. The group will also use its site to issue information, educational materials and state-by-state policies for substance abuse testing.

The CCDAFW is comprised of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Construction Industry Round Table (CIRT), Construction Users’ Roundtable (CURT) and Women Construction Owners & Executives (WCOE).

The CCDAFW website and online pledge launch coincides with North American Occupational Safety and Health Week, May 6-12. It's early, but the new effort has received a positive initial response from labor unions, officials said.

Deadline for state's new business contest draws near

Posted by: Dee DePass Updated: May 2, 2012 - 11:38 AM

The state of Minnesota is calling on all want-to-be entrepreneurs to submit their most innovative business idea to the Minnesota Cup contest by May 18.

Division winners can receive up to $25,000 in start up capital, while one grand prize winner will be awarded an additional $40,000.

The Minnesota Cup is one of the country's largest competitions for new businesses. The contest, designed to foster new businesses and jobs, is sponsored by United Health, General Mills, Wells Fargo, the University of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Department of Employment an Economic Development.

Applications and information are at To arrange interviews with contest organizers, past participants and winners, contact  


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