If you've lived in this state for more than a few years, the Minnesota you know is a place where educational attainment and median household income are well above the national average. It's a place where the quality of life gets a boost from those higher incomes as they are donated and taxed in ways that keep schools good, crime low, nature unspoiled, and arts and amenities flourishing.
Evidence is mounting that in the wake of the Great Recession, Minnesota's income advantage over the rest of the nation is shrinking. The latest: A Star Tribune analysis of state labor data shows that the portion of jobs paying $10 to $25 an hour has dropped sharply in the past decade, from nearly two-thirds of all job postings in 2002 to 43 percent today. Meanwhile, more than a third of today's openings are for jobs paying less than $10 an hour.
That's in keeping with the latest U.S. Census Bureau analyses putting Minnesota's median household income at $57.820 in 2011. While that's still 15.5 percent above the national median, and represents a gain from Minnesota's 6.3 percent advantage in 2010, the state stood 29.2 percent above the national level on the same measure in 2000.
Does that mean that Minnesota's quality of life is at risk? Yes, said recently retired state demographer Tom Gillaspy, if Minnesota doesn't move aggressively to take advantage of the flip side of the postrecession employment trend. That side is also evident in the Star Tribune analysis: Jobs paying at least $25 an hour have grown from 4 percent of Minnesota vacancies in 2002 to 19 percent in 2012. (These figures are adjusted for inflation.)
The recession has accelerated a workforce trend that Gillaspy and his research partner, state economist Tom Stinson, have long forecast. Generic, middle-income, middle-management jobs are disappearing as enterprises learn to function with fewer of them. Low-skill, low-wage jobs are again in demand now, but many remain in jeopardy of replacement by technology. If robots can do a job, they will, and soon.
But workers with specialized skills and the capacity to be both analytic and creative "can name their price" in many fields, Gillaspy said.
Securing more of those high-wage jobs and the benefits their incomes provide means improving Minnesota's educational attainment. Other states and nations are catching up to the educational advantage Minnesota built for itself in the last half of the 20th century.
To stay above average in income and the rest, Minnesota needs another major leap forward in educational attainment in the next decade. The 20th-century K-12 educational norm should give way to an expectation that every youngster will experience formal learning from prekindergarten through "grade 14" -- that is, at least two years of postsecondary study.
This state's leading higher educators have been busy in the last year devising strategies for increasing post-high-school educational attainment. But they can't do the job alone. Enrolling more 4- and 5-year-olds in quality preschools must also be part of a grand plan. So must a better, more individualized melding of high school with college study and communitywide efforts to keep youngsters in school.
All this effort needs an orchestrator to coordinate and harmonize it -- and there's no one better positioned for the task than Gov. Mark Dayton. Minnesota needs a new grand plan for success in the new economy. As Dayton stumps the state for his party's candidates this fall, we hope he is also gathering ideas and steam for the strategic planning exercise that the 2013 legislative session should include.
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