Employers add jobs; unemployed wait for their turn

Minnesota employers added 15,600 jobs in January, an impressive number to see in the midst of a recession. The number may be inflated due to seasonal adjustments and is only expected to average 2,400 each month in the next year, but it has the potential to give many unemployed Minnesotans hope that things are turning around.

Dorisa Nelson has seen the numbers, and she considers them good news. But the St. Paul 23-year-old, who has struggled to find a job in her field of architecture, has two questions: Where are those new jobs, and are they the type of jobs the people who were hired really wanted?

Besides the added jobs, Minnesota's unemployment rate fell slightly in January to 7.3 percent. Sectors of the economy that had been hit hard by the recession -- manufacturing and construction, for instance -- had job gains.

But in the state's economic forecast released Tuesday, economists said job creation will be slow in 2010 and early 2011, making it "very difficult" to put unemployed, displaced and underutilized workers back to work quickly.

Nelson knows that could include her. Nelson has a master's degree in architecture, but her only job now is working 5 to 6 hours a week at a clothing store at Rosedale mall in Roseville. On a good week, her manager will find some extra work to boost her hours up to 10 or 15.

Things are looking up for her a little -- there's a chance Coldwater Creek will have more work for her starting this month, and a friend of her mother's has offered to pay her to do some office work. She'll take the money, but she'd much rather be doing architecture.

"It's just hard to stay optimistic through it all," Nelson said.

While state economist Tom Stinson said there are signs of improvement, he reminded people that he expects the recovery to happen slowly.

"Even under the optimistic scenario, even under a situation where there's going to be a lot of Census hiring distorting the numbers over the next six months or so, it's going to be a long time for us to get back to prior employment levels," Stinson said.

In 2009, an average of 14.2 percent of Minnesotans were unemployed, had stopped looking for a job but would take one if they could find one, or were working part-time but wanted full-time work. The average includes months in which the recession was at its worst, so the rate is likely better now.

Another factor in the state's unemployment rate that's released each month is people who have gotten so discouraged about finding a job that they've stopped looking.

Tim Nelson of Golden Valley recently gave up his search, deciding instead to tap into his savings to buy some photo scanning equipment and try freelance work. After testing out the equipment, he hopes to soon start offering to digitize people's old photos and negatives for a fee.

"Everyone has closets full of film," Nelson said of his project.

But Nelson said he's not very optimistic it will serve as a permanent solution to his unemployment: "I don't think this will be a money maker at all."

Discouraged workers like Nelson are among those the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development hopes will start trying again as the economy shows signs of improvement.

"There are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs on the market, but we want to encourage people who may not have looked for a while but are unemployed ... to visit our workforce centers," DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy said.

(MPR's Paul Tosto contributed to this report.)

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