‘Lost generation’ of Minnesota workers?

We spent a chunk of 2009 wringing our hands over the state’s young talent leaving Minnesota. New grads and young adults in MPR’s Public Insight Network shared stories of how the recession was crippling professional opportunities.

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At about the same time, the state economist and state demographer were projecting a slow growing, rapidly aging labor force in Minnesota after a decade of robust growth.

Now, those worries are converging in ways that could mean serious problems for Minnesota’s economic future — regardless of the recovery.

State Demographer Tom Gillaspy and his colleagues write in a new report about a disturbing and growing mismatch between the skills of those looking for work and the skills employers seek to hire” and a “lost generation” of Minnesota workers, “where those with the necessary skills do very well while those without the desired skills will struggle economically for the remainder of their lives.”

If you’re not worried about this, you should be. Here’s why.

We have young adults unable to find work. We have Minnesotans leaving the state labor force in unprecedented numbers.

And the fastest growing student populations in Minnesota’s high schools — the people who you will increasingly depend upon in your old age to pay taxes, keep your Social Security solvent, build Minnesota’s economy and its quality of life — are the least prepared to take on that future.

Collectively, it’s a pretty grim outlook, a future where Minnesota doesn’t have the talent to fill the jobs the state needs the most but must still contend with a surplus of workers whose skills no longer match up with the economy’s needs.

Some highlights:

Labor force growth will likely continue to slow, with virtually all economic growth achieved due to increases in per-worker productivity. Without major efforts to invest in human and physical capital, we will not see the productivity growth necessary to counter the slowing growth of the labor force.

By the 2020s, Minnesota’s labor force growth rate will be at record-low levels. Total hours worked are expected to slow even more, as increasing numbers of older workers shift from full-time to part-time jobs.

Slower workforce growth could improve opportunities for workers, but another possibility is that employers will resort more to alternatives to hiring such as labor-saving devices, downsizing, and moving to labor markets with more qualified labor. (emphasis added).

That last paragraph is pretty powerful. Moving to labor markets with more qualified labor? Hey, this is a Minnesota!

Truth is we’ve been conditioned to believe that Minnesota will always be able to keep and draw talent. But the recession is exposing that conceit.

Almost exactly a year ago, we asked: Who will grow the economy and maintain Minnesota’s quality of life? Anyone?

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