Other’s opinion: Positive news on jobs, population

Published 5:58 pm Friday, January 5, 2024

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Credit employers and workers for Minnesota’s enduring employment growth.

More jobs. More people. Minnesota’s employment and population trends are going in the right direction, which should create cautious optimism going into 2024.

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The data, derived from recent reports from the Department of Employment and Economic Development ( DEED ) as well as the U.S. Census Bureau, show stable, steady growth in both areas. In a credit to the state’s employers and workers, Minnesota has added jobs for five months straight and 9,500 more from October to November. That’s the largest increase since January. And the state gained 17,300 jobs over a three-month period, a 0.6% increase, compared with a 0.2% increase in the same time frame nationally.

November’s state unemployment rate fell to 3.1%, impressively below the 3.7% national rate, as eight of 10 “supersectors” (as DEED deems them) saw growth, including trade, transportation and utilities (up 3,300 jobs); education and health services (up 2,700); government (up 1,100), and manufacturing (up 1,000).

But reflecting an enduring challenge to Minnesota employers and the state itself, the labor force actually decreased by 7,433 people in November, dropping Minnesota’s participation rate to 68.3%. That’s still well above the 62.8% national average, but below what’s needed for most employers facing chronic labor shortages — a particularly acute condition in southern Minnesota, Angelina Nguyn, DEED labor market information director, said during a virtual news conference last Thursday.

DEED will continue to roll out workforce development initiatives in 2024, Commissioner Matt Varilek said during the news conference, in which he also commented on the positive population growth of 23,615 people from July 2022 to July 2023. While the 0.4% increase isn’t as high as some rapidly growing Sun Belt states — as well as neighboring North and South Dakota — it’s better than the previous two years, and more in line with Minnesota’s typical trend line.

Some of the increase came from post-pandemic stabilization of natural growth (births minus deaths), which accounted for 13,834 more Minnesotans, and even more from international migration, which added 14,575 new Minnesotans. But domestic out-migration — Minnesotans moving to other states — continued, albeit at a slower pace of 4,686.

The overall population growth “is a positive thing for all those employers that have more demand for workers than they can find,” Varilek said. “Beyond that, I would say we hope to continue supporting that trend and inviting Minnesotans by being a welcoming place.”

It already is for jobseekers — and government, institutions and individuals can make it even more welcoming. But it’s crucial that state leaders focus on retaining residents and attracting people from other states. International migration is highly dependent on domestic politics, and an incoming Republican presidential administration (especially under former President Donald Trump) may have much more restrictive immigration policies than the Biden administration has had.

State government, under DFL leadership at the executive and legislative level, took several steps last session to try to differentiate Minnesota from neighboring states, including with programs like paid family leave. Next session, legislative leaders, as well as Gov. Tim Walz, should proceed with caution, however, because of impending budget restraints as well the need to adjust to the significant investments made last session, many of which will also require new workers to implement.

“I think we should all take pride in the unique strengths of the Minnesota economy,” Varilek said, commenting on its structural diversity, high prosperity, high incomes and relatively low unemployment. Within the Upper Midwest, Minnesota “has really taken a distinct, strategic approach to policy,” he added as he reflected on initiatives in education and other sectors. “We think those things are going to give us an advantage as people learn more about the Minnesota story, and learn more about the Minnesota quality of life.”

It’s a story that should indeed be heard regionally, nationally, and internationally. And as the jobs and population growth figures attest, more people are listening.