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Minnesota Layoffs Increasing
by Andrew Haeg
April 14, 2000
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Despite record-low unemployment in Minnesota and nationally, corporations are laying off substantial numbers of workers. Many turn to the state for help in getting new job skills, but that option may not be available much longer.
Press operators at Quebecor World Printing. Seated (left to right): Don Ziolkowski, Pat Ross, Art Zacharias
Rear: Nick Caruso (President, Twin Cities Printing Trades Union)
Photo: Andrew Haeg

THE ECONOMY continues to charge ahead, but Minnesota companies still laid off more than 5,000 workers in each of the last two years.

Canadian printing company Quebecor is closing its St. Paul plant and firing all 570 of its workers. The St. Paul Companies laid off 350 in September, Hutchinson Technology slashed more than a thousand positions since last August. Just last month Pillsbury said it would cut 280 jobs at its Minneapolis headquarters.

Kris Jacobs is president of the Jobs Now Coalition, an association of companies offering job counseling services. She says people used to think good economic times would bring more job security, not less. "There was a belief that once the recession was over there wouldn't be any more layoffs," she says. "And the thinking in 1990 and 1991 was that layoffs were a bad thing for the market and a bad thing for the economy, but today, layoffs are seen as a signal to Wall Street that profits will improve because employers are being more efficient."

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas estimates, nationally, companies laid off some 677,000 workers in 1998, and 675,000 in 1999. "Those were the highest figures for the entire decade since 1989, when we began tracking downsizing in America," notes John Challenger is president of the Chicago-based firm.

"More and more today we have to constantly think about keeping our skills up to date, going back and getting more education, the job market is very insecure."

- John Challenger
Unemployment in Minnesota is hovering near 2.1 percent. So most job seekers aren't having much trouble finding new jobs. The challenge is finding a position without taking a pay cut. To do that, many people are realizing they need new skills to make the transition between jobs. "More and more today we have to constantly think about keeping our skills up to date, going back and getting more education, the job market is very insecure," says Challenger.

That's why the state's dislocated worker's program is busier than ever. It provides counselors who assess job seeker's needs and help them find work again. Everything is paid for by the state, which raises the funds through a tax on the state's businesses.

The program serves people like William Rodgers. Prudential Insurance fired Rodgers in February as part of a corporate restructuring. He'd started as a computer technician in the 1970s, moved twice with the company, and ended up in Minneapolis in the late 1980s. Rodgers says he'd expected to stay with the company for good, but now he's taking classes, paid for by the state, to learn new computing skills.

"Once you start learning stuff and you start growing, you're like, 'Wow, this feels pretty good.' It kind of puts you in the right mindset."

But the program that's helping retrain Rodgers faces an uncertain future. Governor Jesse Ventura intends to eliminate the tax used to fund it by next summer. Ventura says he may restore the tax later if necessary.