Generations of ‘lost’ Minnesota workers?

The fastest growing student populations in Minnesota’s 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.

It’s a point I’ve made repeatedly during the recession and “recovery,” starting in July of 2009 when a federal report showed Minnesota with some of the widest racial achievement gaps in the nation.

Two-plus years later, not much has changed. Data on Minneapolis student achievement released in a report today from the Minneapolis Foundation and Wilder Foundation reinforces what we’ve known for a long time.

You can find the full report here.

I covered schools in the Twin Cities for more than a decade before coming to MPR News. I’m not being cynical when I say there isn’t much new in the data. Here’s a blurb from Minnesota’s fourth grade reading report on the National Assessment of Educational Progress:

In 2009, Black students had an average score that was 35 points lower than that of White students. This performance gap was not significantly different from that in 1992 (34 points).

So we’re talking about 20 years of gap in that measure alone.

Looking through today’s report, I pulled out three telling graphs.

The first tells you the scope of the problem in the earliest grades.


The second gives you a sense of how intractable the problems are. Third grade reading performance is a pretty decent predictor of who graduates.


Remarkably, there is no gap when it comes to the issue of how satisfied people are in the Minneapolis schools.


I’m not sure what to make of that.

Since I write about the economy, now, though, I can tell you we should all be worried about what it means for the state’s economic future.

Earlier this year, state demographer Tom Gillaspy and his colleagues wrote of 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.”

The Minneapolis Foundation / Wilder Foundation report data make it clear that Gillaspy’s “lost generation” metaphor could extend way beyond the recession.

It’s 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.

  • Jennifer Godinez

    I was at a breakfast announcement with the Minneapolis Foundation as I heard the stark analysis as well. As Associate Director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, much of this data is not new (though “newly packaged”). At MMEP, we concentrate on finding those organizations and leaders who are changing these odds, every day. Our African American Males in Education committee held a forum in May to discuss promising practices, policies to change the course of Black male achievement. Our college access network, expands college access information for diverse audiences and with entire community collaboratives. It’s time to focus on solutions. I’m proud that MMEP is the “Steve Jobs” of innovation in education equity. Check us out at