DULUTH – The Duluth area is making some headway as it crawls out of its pandemic-induced jobs slump.

The region has regained about 65% of jobs lost at the start of the pandemic, according to figures released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The unemployment rate also dropped to 4% from 4.8% the previous month, matching the state number.

"Overall we're moving in a positive direction," said Elena Foshay, Duluth's director of workforce development. "The unemployment rate is almost down to pre-pandemic levels, which is pretty amazing."

From April to May, the Duluth metropolitan area — St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas (Wis.) counties — gained about 1,400 jobs, its biggest increase since February. But those gains, not adjusted for seasonality, are expected at this time of year, and it's unclear how much can be attributed to pandemic recovery, said Carson Gorecki, regional labor analyst with DEED.

The area remains down about 5,700 jobs since February 2020.

The hospitality, mining, construction and logging industries saw sharp job growth in May. The hospitality industry, however, continues to lag well behind pre-pandemic levels.

"Employers are still desperate for workers," Gorecki said.

The size of the labor pool also shrank slightly, perpetuating a problem visible well before the pandemic. That's something the city of Duluth is discussing with employers.

Foshay wondered whether businesses can offer higher wages, hiring bonuses, hybrid schedules and shifts that align with bus schedules, or change recruitment practices to target different groups of people. But it could take until late fall or early winter for things to balance out, when unemployment insurance benefits end, kids return to school and college students are back in town. Now parents who didn't line up summer child care in the spring, when things were still uncertain, might be out of luck, she said.

"Part of the challenge is economic recovery is happening really fast, faster than the labor force can respond," Foshay said.

Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450