Friday, May 21, 2010

Minnesota starts to shake off unemployment blues

Employers add 10,200 workers in April; jobless rate at 7.2%

By Julie Forster

Kristin Johnson was laid off in October from a marketing job at Target Corp. after six years with the retailer. When she started her job search, the market was grim. But in recent months, Johnson noticed a marked change in promising job postings. Last week, she clinched a new job at better pay and with similar benefits.

"I couldn't be happier," said Johnson, 30, who on Monday starts her job as a consumer marketing manager for a custom jewelry company in the Minneapolis warehouse district.

Johnson's story replayed thousands of times illustrates a labor market in recovery as employers start to hire again. Minnesota went into the recession ahead of the U.S., starting with an earlier downturn in the housing market. Now, it is coming out ahead of the nation.

Minnesota employers added 10,200 jobs in April, the state reported Thursday, helping to push the unemployment rate down slightly to 7.2 percent, versus 9.9 percent for the nation. That is the largest gap between the two on record.

The trend represents a return to normal. At the end of 2006, Minnesota had lost the historic advantage of having an unemployment rate better than the U.S. rate. Traditionally, Minnesota's rate had been 1.5 to 2.5 percentage points lower. For some of 2007, its jobless rate actually jumped above the national rate. In May 2009, the state had a full percentage point advantage, and the spread has been widening since.

In Minnesota, more people are finding work across a broad base of industries. Consumers are starting to spend again, and retail employers are hiring. The retail and wholesale trade sector showed strong signs of job growth. Manufacturers added jobs for the fourth month in a row, as factories ramped up to meet an increase in orders. Those sectors were particularly weak during the recession and are typically the first to lead a recovery.

Minnesota's economy wasn't as damaged as the economies of states such as California and Florida, which had more severe downturns in the housing and construction markets, said Scott Anderson, senior economist with Wells Fargo. More here.

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