Employment bleeding is over but recovery still seems far away

It was good this morning to read the national jobless rate held steady at 9.7 percent, better than expected. That followed news early this week of job growth in Minnesota during January.

But there’s still a long road to walk before we get to a recovery that people feel.

That’s what we heard when we asked Minnesotans in MPR’s Public Insight Network to give us their personal economic forecast for March. How were they feeling about their household economy? Would they be saving or spending? Most of the couple dozen responses we got made it clear jobs and debt are still major sources of worry.

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Marty Ganser, a research engineer from St. Paul, described his financial outlook as worrisome. “I would have said ‘holding steady,’ except for the recent notice of layoffs by my employer, slated for late March.That is really the big worrisome question.”

He and his wife are expecting their first child soon, he added. “We’re holding off on any further big-ticket baby items, and prioritizing our debt in the event I get laid off.”

Things seemed better for Linda Kvanbeck , an administrative assistant and horse show judge from Northfield. Her husband took a new job in January, “which is an immense help to our finances.” But she worried over her short-term finances.

Among the issues she’s dealing with, she owns a horse barn that needs the roof replaced.

“We will save less money as we continue to pay off credit card debt. Some debt has been retired, but we have a long way to go,” she said. “It is difficult to see any way to put on a new barn roof in the next two years, as all of our disposable income is going to debt and to caring for the horses.”

Job growth is obviously crucial to making things better in Minnesota. But the professional forecasters continue to tamp down prospects for this year. The latest caution comes from Minnesota’s newest economic forecast :

The slow pace of job creation in Minnesota for the remainder of 2010 and early 2011 will make it very difficult to put the state’s unemployed, displaced, and underutilized workers back to work promptly.

Even with average growth of 6,000 per month in late 2011 through 2012, (Minnesota Management and Budget) economists believe it is likely that a higher state unemployment rate may become the new normal for the foreseeable future.

Even as she expects her financial situation to improve this month, Jo Hendricks told us she’s worried about her job prospects.

A tax refund will brighten her short-term picture. She said she’d use it to pay accumulated debt and boost her savings. “This is major as it reduces the stress of being in debt while being employed but under-employed.”

But then came an “Arghhh” when we asked about possible changes at work. “We are,” she said, “looking at furloughs.”

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