Think back to May 2008. A massive economic storm was brewing, but most Minnesotans did not yet notice. Only about 5 percent of the Minnesotans who were looking for work could not find it.
Five difficult years later, Minnesota’s unemployment rate is finally back to where it was in May 2008 — 5.2 percent, according to the official state tally released last week. The state has now recovered 95 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession of 2008-09, said Katie Clark Sieben, the state’s employment/economic development commissioner.
We’d be tempted to propose a flash-mob chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again” on Nicollet Mall but for the abiding pain of too many Minnesotans whose lives were distorted by the recession. The 5.2 percent unemployment rate masks the depth and scope of the damage livelihoods have sustained. It also fails to count those who have given up looking for work, and does not indicate how many of those now working are employed in lower-wage, less-desirable positions than they once held or are qualified to hold. The record-high number of temporary jobs in the state attests to continuing weakness in the job market.
Comparing 2013 job totals with those in 2008 also fails to mention that the state’s working-age population has grown in the past five years. The U.S. Census Bureau reports a 1.4 percent state population gain in just two years, 2010 to 2012. A return to 2008 job levels is not the same as full recovery.
It’s also notable that in the most recent monthly tally, job growth was held to only 400 positions statewide not because of sluggish performance by the private sector but because of the continuing pinch in the public one. A 2,500-job increase in private hiring was offset by 2,100 government jobs lost. The new state biennium began July 1, and with it, a budget nearly $3 billion larger than the previous one. That should bolster state and local government employment — even as the sequester continues to take a toll on federal jobs. In all, job numbers in 34 states have not yet surpassed their 2008 levels, according to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute. Three states — Nevada, Illinois and Mississippi — are still burdened with unemployment rates of 9 percent or higher, and 17 states have unemployment rates above the national average of 7.6 percent.
As this recovery has progressed, Minnesota has reclaimed its customary employment advantage over the nation, something it appeared to lose in 2006-07. Sustainable self-sufficiency has not returned to all who seek it. But for those still searching, Minnesota’s employment gain is reason for hope.