The Big Story Blog

A deep dive into today's Minnesota jobless data

Posted at 11:15 AM on December 15, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Jobs and unemployment

MPR News business editor Bill Catlin takes a deep look into today's conflicting data showing Minnesota's jobless rate falling even as officials acknowledge nearly 14,000 jobs were eliminated during November.

You can find his analysis on MinnEcon, the MPR News economy blog, in a post appropriately titled, "Say what?"

Here's an excerpt:

A peek under the hood of the falling unemployment rate shows some interesting trends. The jobless rate is based on a large survey of households. Over the past four months the survey indicates 30,000 additional people had been paid for work in Minnesota. Being paid for work may or may not involve a job with an employer.

Getting a $15 spiff to shovel someone's driveway will qualify someone as "employed" in the household survey. But, as state officials note, a growing number of people who are self-employed could explain the trend.

Obviously more people being paid for work is favorable factor pushing down unemployment. Another factor is more pessimistic. An additional 13,000 people have given up on finding work in the past two months. People who aren't looking for work aren't counted as unemployed. They've dropped out of the workforce.

All that said, it's important to bear in mind that state officials are raising serious questions about the findings. Two of the four possible explanations for the conflicting unemployment and payroll employment findings relate to the way the numbers are derived--sampling error and changes in methodology--not changes in the job market. In other words, it's unclear whether we're seeing changes in the economy or just artifacts produced by number crunching.

In any case, as Annie Baxter reports today this unemployment report means potentially thousands of Minnesotans could become ineligible for extended unemployment benefits. The three month average jobless rate has fallen to 6.43 percent, below the threshold for the extended benefits to continue.

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.

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