Minnesota employment back to pre-recession level

The tepid economic recovery in Minnesota is growing vigorous.

Employers in the state added a whopping 12,200 jobs last month, and state economic officials say the surge in hiring indicates Minnesota has regained all the jobs lost in the Great Recession, and then some.

The recession caused employment in Minnesota to plummet by 160,000 jobs. But the state's job market finally bears some semblance to its old healthy self, with employment back to a level last seen in early 2008, shortly after the recession began.

This line chart shows the performance of Minnesota's job market during the first 32 months in office for the most recent Minnesota governors, Mark Dayton (DFL) 2011- , Tim Pawlenty (R) 2003-2011, Jesse Ventura (Reform) 1999 - 2003, and Arne Carlson (R) 1991 - 1999. Each line represents Minnesota's job growth (or loss) over the past 12 months in comparison to the nation's as a whole. (We used this MN/US approach to neutralize the effect of recessions and overall employment growth over time.) A reading above zero indicates Minnesota's labor market outperformed the U.S. job market for that month of the governor's term. Below zero, Minnesota was weaker than the national average that month. The chart shows two things: based on the number of months above zero, Carlson presided over the strongest Minnesota job market in his first 32 months and Pawlenty the weakest; and with the job gains announced recently and the recovery of all jobs lost in the great recession as of August, Dayton is enjoying stronger economic tailwinds at 32 months than his predecessors did.
Minn. added 12,200 jobs in August

"After 19 months of rapid decline and then 47 months of modest growth, we're now 5,100 jobs above that previous peak," said Steve Hine, the state's chief labor market analyst.

Hine said Minnesota is adding jobs at a much faster rate than the nation. The state's unemployment rate of 5.1 percent is much lower than the national rate of 7.3 percent.

But there are caveats to the good news. A few industries, including construction and manufacturing, still haven't recovered all the jobs they shed in the economic crisis, and 150,000 Minnesotans are still unemployed.

"We're still not back to where we can happily say that the economy is fully recovered," Hine said.

One person who will understand that without explanation is Patrick Dentinger, who worked as a graphic designer for 14 years until he lost his job in 2008. Dentinger, 42, now has a paid internship, but his finances are far from recovered.

"I've basically had to reboot my career at almost half of what I was making before, but beggars can't be choosers," he said.

Dentinger has struggled to find work, but has only landed an occasional freelance job. The recession effectively gutted his life, causing him to be evicted from his apartment in 2008.

"I've had to live with friends and family off and on. Right now I'm renting a room from my sister in Shakopee," he said. "I had lots of belongings that I had in storage and now everything that I own fits into my one bedroom where I'm living right now."

To make ends meet, he had to sell most of what he owned, including his furniture.

Economists consider people in situations like Dentinger's "under-employed." They still represent much more of the workforce than they did before the recession -- even four years into the recovery.

That said, Dentinger is more hopeful about his prospects lately. The paid internship -- part of a state-sponsored training program -- is helping him build new skills that he thinks will make him more employable. It's also lifting some of the depression triggered by his layoff.

"I feel like I'm honestly back in a place where my head and my career are starting to go in a forward direction," Dentinger said.

Other beleaguered workers in Minnesota seem to be feeling a bit more optimistic, too.

State officials say that there's been a decline in the number of people who left the workforce out of discouragement over their job prospects.

In August 2012, about 11,000 workers in Minnesota apparently decided it would be futile to look for a job. By last month, that number had dropped to 7,000.

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