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Fewer jobs available in Minnesota
By Bill Catlin
Minnesota Public Radio
January 18, 2002

A new state survey indicates job openings in Minnesota have declined more than 40 percent in the past year. The report also says the job market in the St. Cloud area is weaker than the state as a whole. The survey was released a day after the parent company of Fingerhut announced it expects to eliminate 4,700 jobs in the state, more than half of them in St. Cloud.

Jay Mousa
Jay Mousa, research director for the Minnesota Department of Economic Security, says the job market has changed dramatically over the past year. It's no longer a job-seeker's market, as job vacancies declined 43 percent from December 2000 to December 2001.
(MPR file photo)

A year ago, a similar survey indicated that for every 10 unemployed Minnesotans, there were 16 job openings. Now there are only seven, according to the latest results. Jay Mousa is research director for the Minnesota Department of Economic Security, which compiled the results.

"The whole late '90s we had a labor shortage, we had employers scrambling to find workers. It was basically the ultimate job-seekers market. Things have changed dramatically," Mousa says.

The survey found job vacancies declined 43 percent statewide from the end of 2000 to the end of 2001. There are about three job openings for every 100 jobs now - down from 5.5 a year ago. But Mousa says the St. Cloud area job market is even weaker, with a vacancy rate of about 2.5 percent - even before the announcement that Fingerhut is likely to shut down.

"The problem in the St. Cloud area is amplified by having less job openings and more unemployed job-seekers. There's more competition for jobs," Mousa says. "It's probably more than the state as a whole, especially since the latest layoffs announcements."

The survey also suggests the health care industry has not made a dent in addressing a worker shortage, despite a year of rising unemployment. Health care had the highest numbher of vacancies, nearly 18,000, and the highest vacancy rate.

State officials say the survey generally confirms what other labor statistics have shown.

"My very first that it didn't surprise me. I personally know a lot of people who are looking for work that I didn't before," says Andrew Schmitz, executive vice president of the Jeane Thorne temprorary help agency based in St. Paul.

He says the company's business has dropped by 20 to 25 percent in the past year - after booming over the prior decade. And with more people looking for work, there's less pressure to increase wages.

"The problem in the St. Cloud area is amplified by having less job openings and more unemployed job-seekers. There's more competition for jobs."

- Jay Mousa, Department of Economic Security

"Leaving the pay rates alone has not affected recruitment. It has not affected the quality of the candidate we've been able to draw," says Schmitz. "I think most people in this $10 to $15 per hour range are just dealing with the same salary this January as they probably were early last year."

The survey found the most dramatic drop in computer and mathematical related job vacancies - 73 percent, reflecting the tech meltdown. But that number seems high to Nick Doty, who helps analyze surveys of members for the tech job site Doty says Techies has seen about a 50 percent drop in job postings for Minnesota. He says Minnesota has held up better than places like San Francisco.

"There hasn't been as dramatic of a decline here, just because of the diversity of our workplace," Doty says. "And there are certain sectors of the market here that are growing, such as biotech. Companies such as Best Buy - their growth has obviously helped the industry."

But Doty says pay rates have come down about 6 percent, and as much as 14 percent for technology management jobs.

Andrew Schmitz of Jeane Thorne says he's seeing signs of an economic upturn. Employment agencies are a leading indicator of employment trends, because companies will turn to them before committing to hiring new staff.

"Just about every one of our offices has had a significant large order come in in the last 10 days, Schmitz says. "My best guess is we have three times as many orders this week as we did the second or the third week of December."

Schmitz says so far it appears business may be better than projected for this month and next.

The Minnesota Job Vacancy Survey was based on the responses of more than 5,000 firms throughout the state.

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