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Job recovery nearly complete but recession's effects linger

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Steve Hine
Steve Hine, Minnesota's chief labor market analyst with the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

For a long time, Minnesota's jobs recovery seemed to have a saw-toothed shape to it. One month, employers would beef up payrolls. The next month they'd trim them.

But the latest jobs report from the Department of Employment and Economic Development suggests that the saw-tooth pattern has straightened out.

"Our economy is on pretty solid footing when it comes to job growth," said Steve Hine, chief labor market analyst for the state. Employers added about 12,000 jobs in January, he said. Revisions to past numbers going back almost two years revealed the economy added 17,000 more new jobs than had been previously reported.

Some of the biggest revisions were to an area highly subject to consumer confidence and spending: the leisure and hospitality sector. Previous estimates, which are based on surveys of employers, had suggested the sector was in the dumps. But that was not the case.

"The fact that leisure and hospitality has not been losing jobs the way we had initially been reporting, I think speaks to the fact that consumer spending has been contributing more than our initial employment estimates would indicate, Hine said.

"Our economy is on pretty solid footing when it comes to job growth."

Federal number crunchers revise the job numbers based on additional information that they get, namely tax records that businesses file every quarter. Those records reveal the unemployment insurance tax companies pay, which allows officials to build a more accurate picture of employers' payrolls.

With the revisions in place, Hine said Minnesota is now within striking distance of recouping the 160,000 jobs lost in the Great Recession.

"We should be there by April," he said.

But that does not mean Minnesota's economy will be fully healed at that point. Hine said. He notes that unemployment among African-Americans and teenagers remains at troubling levels.

He also said one out of three unemployed Minnesotans has been searching for work for 6 months or longer.

Matt Henry hopes he doesn't get to that point. He lives in Minneapolis and was laid off from his advertising job in November. Henry said the job market looks pretty good for workers with three to five years of experience, but he is in the middle of his career, not the beginning.

Downtown St. Paul
Construction continues on the Penfield project, viewed from Robert Street between 10th and 11th streets, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012 in downtown St. Paul. With revised assessments of job recovery in place, Steve Hine, chief labor market analyst for the state, said Minnesota is now within striking distance of recouping the 160,000 jobs lost in the Great Recession.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"You never see anything for people over ten years of experience," Henry said. "The 15 years of experience that I have isn't necessarily a selling point all the time."

Henry is in his early 40's. Although his wife works, his unemployment is putting big household decisions on hold, like having kids.

He is taking classes to keep his skills fresh and has landed several job interviews. Henry says he is staying positive. But employers can still afford to be really picky, he said.

"It's a company market. It's just not our market here at this point," he said.

But even if it is a buyers' market, it looks like there are more buyers. A recent DEED survey of employers showed a bump in the number of employers who plan to hire and a decrease in the number who plan to fire.