We’re number what?

We love stats here at MinnEcon and we spend hours rearranging data on spreadsheets looking for trends.

Yes, we’re geeks. But we’re not chumps.

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So when it comes to trying to rank the best or worst of anything, we run the other way. We know enough about the use and misuse of data to know that rankings can range from arbitrary to meaningless.

And so it is with discussions about the best jobs climate.

In past posts, we’ve taken the air out of the Wisconsin-is-better line and that not every Minnesota business is moving to South Dakota.

Today we ran across Forbes.com and its newest “Best Cities for Jobs” page. The Twin Cities was not there.

We found that odd because it was only two months ago that Forbes put Minneapolis on top of its rankings of the “Best Cities for Finding Employment.”

Yes, the one in March used a different source than the one this week. But you get the point.

Back in January, ABC News declared Minneapolis among the top five cities that were hiring, writing:

Minneapolis has already recovered more than half of the jobs it lost in the recession. Two driving forces are manufacturing and retail. Manufacturing is regaining steam because demand for products is staying ahead of production, which means new orders are growing. Company owners are feeling confident and are hiring to meet that demand. Plus, the number of retail jobs is growing, helped in no small part by the massive expansion of the Mall of America, which is currently underway.

Let’s pick that apart, starting with the assertion that “Minneapolis has already recovered more than half the jobs it lost in the recession.”

Here’s a chart from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showing non-farm employment in the Twin Cities metro (click on the chart for a larger view).

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You’d be hard pressed to argue the economy’s made back half the jobs lost since December 2007 when the Great Recession began.

As for manufacturing, executives are more optimistic about the economy but the jobs have been slow to follow

A chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis bears that out.

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As for “demand for products is staying ahead of production, which means new orders are growing…” this may or may not be true. Even when new orders are falling, demand for products can stay ahead of production if output shrinks.

Retail picking up? Yeah, but here’s a look at the metro area retail job vacancies reported by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

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Yes, it looks like demand is up but it’s pretty minimal compared to the wealth of job openings in the two years before the recession.

The point? Economic rankings should be viewed as entertainment. No one should be making serious decisions — policy or otherwise — based on them.

We’ll leave it to you to rank the weakest statements in the ABC story.

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  • John O.

    One size never fits all in those rankings–unless you are a politician desperate to get a quote.

    The factors that go into the decision-making for a retailer wanting to put a store at location X versus Y is very, very different from a, say, a company that manufactures medical devices wanting to locate a new facility.