DULUTH – The unemployment rate has steadily improved in the Duluth area in recent months after peaking at 12.4% in May.

But 6,700 people have stopped working or looking for jobs altogether, erasing nearly 5% of the area's workforce, according to state data.

"We've recovered just under half the jobs that were lost at the start of the pandemic," said Elena Foshay, director of workforce development for the city of Duluth. "The labor force has shrunk, which is for sure a concern because we already were having a workforce shortage in our region."

November's 4.7% unemployment rate in St. Louis and Carlton counties in Minnesota and Douglas County in Wisconsin remained unchanged from October. The number of people working or looking for work also remained at a 25-year low even as some employers are having trouble finding help. Child care is keeping many from rejoining the workforce.

"We're not going to see any real forward momentum until kids are back in school," Foshay said. "In the meantime, we're just continuing to encourage people to start making a plan — unemployment insurance benefits have now been extended thanks to the federal stimulus, but there still is an end."

The Duluth area has seen the largest percentage drop in jobs, 8.8%, compared with other Minnesota metro areas over the past year.

The biggest job losses have been among restaurants, bars and hotels in the three-county region. Compared with November 2019, there were 5,000 fewer people working in leisure and hospitality last month — a 35% drop.

Those workers may not have the training needed for the entry-level jobs that are available, especially in health care, Foshay said.

"It's a moment of opportunity to reskill and upskill the workforce that lost their jobs to insert them where we need them," she said. "If we have a smaller workforce, that makes each worker more valuable, and we need to be investing in our current workforce."

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496