State's labor market stuck in neutralby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota's job market showed more signs of stabilizing last month. The state lost several thousand jobs in February, but the jobless rate didn't change.
The state's unemployment rate held steady in February at 7.3 percent -- the same as the month before.
Employers dropped a net 3,400 jobs from payrolls. State labor market analyst Steve Hine says he's not so bothered by those losses, considering the state added a whopping 17,200 jobs in January. That was 1,600 more than what was originally reported.
Still, Hine acknowledges that the latest numbers reflect a labor market stuck in neutral.
"We're moving in a different direction than we were a year ago, which is a necessary step to a full recovery. But we're not moving in a direction that we can be confident is a substantial and sustained improvement month in and month out. We hope to see that soon," said Hine.
Seven job sectors shed jobs in February, including the hard-hit construction industry. Four sectors enjoyed gains. Trade, transportation, and utilities had the largest jump with 3,400 jobs.
The beleaguered manufacturing sector, which has dumped nearly 45,000 jobs since the start of the recession, had its second consecutive month of job growth.
Dan McElroy, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, says a robust recovery would mean the labor market's adding roughly 5,000 jobs a month. The average over the past six months is only one-tenth of that.
Even so, McElroy is encouraged by gains in key industries like manufacturing, which can help create jobs in other parts of the economy.
"Every job is important to the people who hold them. But in the bigger picture of the economy, jobs with a higher multipler like manufacturing, where one job in manufacturing might have an impact in the jobs -- in raw materials supply, transportation inbound, transportation outbound, manufacturing outbound -- those tend to have very high multiplier effects. So those will be a good sign also," McElroy said.
But there are few good signs visible to worker Shawn Tweten of New Ulm. He says he's not looking to the state's job numbers to tell him when the economy is on the upswing. He has his own measure.
"When I get to the place where I'm employed full time, and I see a lot of people around me that are employed full time and have jobs, I'll feel more comfortable in the economy," said Tweten.
Last November, Tweten lost his job as a children, youth, and family director at a church. He recently found a part-time job with another church, and also holds a part-time job working in group home for disabled people. Occasionally he throws in a third job substitute teaching.
Tweten has worked multiple jobs before, but this time around the need for doing so is more dire -- he can't find full-time employment, his wife only works part-time, and they have three daughters to support.
He's worried he'll get stuck in a pattern of holding multiple jobs.
"It's disheartening, almost, to the American dream kind of thing. There's this ideaology that you go off to college, you get a degree, you get a good job, you have a house with 2.2 kids and you're set in your job for years and years," said Tweten.
"The reality was you go off to college, you get a bunch of debt, you can't get hired full time, you get a couple part-time jobs, you kind of wait to get a full-time one, and it may or may not show up."
According to data from North Dakota State University, in 2008, Minnesota ranked among the top five states in terms of the percentage of workers who hold multiple jobs.
And with the slow economy, people who want a second job are having a harder time finding one than during the boom times of the 1990s, when there was a worker shortage.
- All Things Considered, 03/18/2010, 5:24 p.m.