Slow motion job growth pain

We’re in an odd and frustrating period in Minnesota’s economic recovery. The high octane job growth we’ve come to expect following a recession isn’t there this time.

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Even as officials Thursday were applauding Minnesota’s lower jobless rate, they acknowledged at the current growth rate it will take another 4.5 years for Minnesota to regain the job levels lost in the recession.

That’s dramatically different than past recessions and it’s a reason we ought to be concerned.

We started looking at data kept by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis of seasonally adjusted employment for the past 80 years. (Here’s a link to the data).

The early 80s is the downturn that looks most like our Great Recession. From the monthly employment data kept by the Fed, here’s a look at the pre-recession employment peak, the recession trough and the return to pre-recession employment

December 1979: 1.788 million

November 1982: 1.685 million

March 1984 (16 months from trough): 1.791 million

So in the early ’80s recession, it took 16 months to return to pre-recession levels following a nearly 6 percent drop in employment.

Here’s the same data for the Great Recession

February 2008: 2.779 million

September 2009: 2.621 million

January 2011 (16 months from trough): 2.642 million

In both eras, Minnesota’s economy lost about six percent of its employment. However,it took the state about 16 months to gain back all the jobs it lost during the early 1980s recessions. This time, it’s taken 16 months to gain back less than 15 percent of the jobs lost. Not great.

The slow motion growth creates a lot of problems for people looking for work. We’ve been particularly concerned about young adults in this kind of economy. It’s pretty hard to start out and while there are some signs things are improving, Minnesotans in MPR’s Public Insight Network are still sharing some frustrating stories.

Dorisa Nelson graduated from North Dakota State in 2009. She has a master’s degree in architecture and a bachelor’s in anthropology and environmental design and hopes to become a licensed Minnesota architect.

But this recession has been particularly cruel to construction and the professions that support it. Architecture jobs are down 30 percent since the recession began (click on the chart for a larger view).

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(Source: MN Department of Employment and Economic Development)

We started talking to Dorisa in late 2009 and we checked in recently to see if she’s seen the market improve. She’s still trying to start her career.

“I personally have not really had any luck in finding a full time job, in architecture, or anything else,” she wrote us.

From what I’ve heard, all my classmates who were lucky enough to find jobs in Fargo after we graduated lost their jobs last summer and only two have been able to find work in architecture- one moved to the east coast, and the other was actually fortunate enough to find a job in the Twin Cities so he will be moving down here next month.

One thing that I find kind of interesting is that both of these classmates were older than the average student when we were in school, late twenties I think. Just an interesting coincidence.

One of my best friends from college, who was very talented and passionate about architecture gave up and opened a bakery. Luckily, she is a very gifted baker and so far she is doing pretty well.

Most of my friends now are either back in school or working at some kind of part time job and living back home with their parents, or both. Actually, if I consider my 5 closest unmarried friends, 4 of them are living with their parents or a sibling. And these are smart people- all with bachelors degrees, some with or working on masters degrees.

The fact that they are still all at home does nothing for their self-esteem.

Happily, she has support. Her husband’s been able to find part-time work in his field and between credit card debt, help from parents and student loans, they’re able to sustain themselves.

“I just really want to start a career in something, instead of just finding a job to do for now and putting off starting a career even further than I’ve already had to.”

The job market will improve. There are signs that it’s happening now. But how long does that take? We saw the fuse lit on a 20 year run of dramatic employment increases following the early 1980s recessions. That’s typically what happens.

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But we’ve technically been in an economic recovery for more than a year and a half now and there’s no sign of that kind of momentum.

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