Job vacancies in Minnesota were up by nearly a third this spring compared to the same time last year, state employment officials announced Thursday. But with growing economic uncertainty, it looks like job openings and hiring will fall in coming months.
The Department of Employment and Economic Development said employers reported nearly 55,000 openings during the second quarter of 2011, compared to about 41,000 in 2010.
Oriane Casale, assistant director of DEED's Labor Market Information Office, said the numbers showed Minnesota was climbing out of the recession - and that employers were willing to hire.
"We're seeing a hiring level that's more back to the normal level that we saw when the recession hit," she said. "Unfortunately, there's still so many unemployed people out there that the job market is still quite competitive."
The survey of employers found that the state had 36 unemployed people for every 10 job openings.
That's still roughly double what it has been in better economic times. But it's better than the 50 persons per 10 job openings during the same period last year.
Casale said there are still not nearly enough jobs for all the people who want them.
"You have hiring picking up. But on the other side you still have a lot of unemployed people," she said. "The labor market is still fairly tight because there's a lot of competition for those jobs." Minnesota's jobless rate stood at 7.2 percent in July.
Casale said one of the more encouraging signs from the report is that vacancies related to manufacturing and construction were both up. Compared to spring 2010, vacancies in manufacturing-related jobs were up more than 50 percent, and construction vacancies were up by 62 percent. The construction vacancies were mostly in heavy construction rather than residential construction -- a sector that has suffered during the housing crisis.
Although the numbers are from this spring, Casale said the report is encouraging and signals that the worst of the recession may be over.
"The economy was probably doing better than even we had thought, based on, for example, our monthly employment numbers. Employers were willing to hire," she said. "This report definitely supports the idea that there will not be a double-dip [recession]."
But since the survey was conducted this past spring, the economic outlook has worsened. Many economists expect job growth will likely slow in coming months
There could be some slowdown in hiring during the second half of the year, given rising fears and uncertainty about the economy, Wells Fargo economist Scott Anderson said.
He notes that many of the job vacancies were for seasonal, lower-wage and part-time jobs. The median wage offer for all job vacancies was $10 an hour.
"It's nice to see some job openings but [it] probably isn't the panacea that we'd like to see at this stage of recovery," he said.
State Economist Tom Stinson is even less enthusiastic. He said forecasters have grown more pessimistic over the last couple of months, lowering their estimates for growth this year and next.
"If the economy grows more slowly, that means we're going to add jobs more slowly," he said.
Although Minnesota's economy has been growing, a leading economic indicator points to slower growth.
In July, the Creighton University Business Conditions Index for Minnesota, based on a survey of company purchasing managers, was positive for the 25th straight month.
But Creighton University economics professor Ernie Gross, who compiles the index, said it doesn't look like Minnesota's economy will perform well enough to drive strong job growth for the rest of the year.
"Instead of growing jobs at, say 1.5 to 2 percent, which is pretty good growth, we're probably going to see growth in the job market in Minnesota below a half percent," Gross said. "While it's not a recession for a lot of businesses, for a lot of consumers out there, it's going to feel like an economic downturn."