Minnesota's economy has seen better days -- way better days. For some of the state's industries, those times probably seem pretty distant.
Manufacturing has had 12 straight months of employment declines. Last month alone, the sector shed 5,100 jobs. Construction also continued its dismal track record in February. It's been dumping jobs every month since May of 2007.
The Educational and Health Services sector, on the other hand, remain relatively robust. The sector has shown consistent growth, including an additional 2,100 jobs in February.
But even with those gains, Minnesota saw a net loss of 13,300 jobs in February.
"I don't want anyone to confuse having lost 13,300 jobs with good news, but it's less bad than I was afraid might have happened," said Dan McElroy, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, or DEED.
McElroy said it's somewhat encouraging that job losses have slowed down from the recent hemorrhaging. Thirteen thousand jobs is a lot, but it's much better than the 18,000 that disappeared in January.
There's a hint workers are feeling less gloomy, too.
Minnesota's labor force participation rate provided another cause for optimism, albeit extremely reserved optimism. The rate measures adult workers who are currently employed or looking for work. It ticked up a hair between January and February.
An increase can mean more unemployed workers have resumed their job search, according to Steve Hine, labor market analyst at DEED.
“It's less bad than I was afraid might have happened.”DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy
"While it's a little early yet, there's promising signs that we're seeing perhaps more interest on the part of individuals that are perhaps more optimistic about being able to find work, despite the numbers that continue to come out, showing declines in jobs," said Hine.
Another bit of good news: The federal stimulus package could blunt the job pain a bit more. State officials expect to see increases in construction jobs and related industries due to stimulus funding.
All that help can't come soon enough for Minnesota residents like Shelley Meier, who lost her job in marketing back in July of 2007.
Meiehr has exhausted her unemployment benefits. Her husband lost his job as a Northwest Airlines mechanic a few years ago and brings in some income as a handyman. But it's not enough to support them both. And in a few months, they won't be able to pay their mortgage.
Meier hopes that some of the stimulus money flowing to infrastructure will improve her situation.
"Fortunately, I have experience with engineering and construction consulting firms, so there is the hope that for those who are working, doing infrastructure, that they will be making use of the funds available for that sort of thing," she said.
Meier says so far, looking for growth firms in this economy has been tough. There are some out there, though, including a new company called Segetis Technology which just opened this year.
Segetis uses raw materials like sugar cane and cornstalks and turns them into plastics. DEED announced the employment numbers today at the Segetis's headquarters to highlight its work.
Segetis cofounder Olga Selifonova says the company currently has job openings, and she's amazed at the quality of workers they're attracting.
"It's a unique opportunity in the economy. When other companies are laying off workers, we really can upgrade our organization, because the talent which is coming right now is unbelievable," said Selifonova.
But for the foreseeable future, the unemployment rate will likely still move higher. It tends to lag other measures of the economy. Economists say the jobless rate will climb even during a recovery.
The national unemployment rate, also 8.1 percent, was at one point, about as bad as economists thought things would get. According to the state's economic forecasting firm, it may yet go as high as 10.4 percent.