In unemployment rate, a tale of two Minnesotas

Lies. Damned lies. Statistics.

Once a month, Benjamin Disraeli’s characterization of the power of numbers is on display when economists release unemployment figures.

The Minnesota unemployment rate dipped to 3.8 percent in September. That would appear to be good news. More than 5,000 jobs were lost. That would appear to be bad news.

What are we supposed to do for context with statistics like this?

Minnesota has added more than 235,000 jobs since hitting the low point of the recession in September 2009,” DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben said in today’s press release. “Despite last month’s job losses, six of the state’s major employment sectors are up from a year ago.”

She’s not lying. The unemployment picture looks brighter than it did a year ago, unless you work in government (down 3,709 jobs), construction (down 2,170 jobs), uncategorized services (down 1,615), logging and mining (down 429), and information (down 357).

If you’re in health care, trucking, or the leisure and hospitality industry, the chances are you’re working.

But that still doesn’t tell the whole story.

DEED breaks down the numbers further. And things look mostly bright in the big scheme of things.

No matter how long you’ve been out of work…


or how old you are or what your gender is…


… things look pretty bright.

There’s one exception to this brightness. This one. Race.


That’s an incredible graphic. For blacks/African-Americans, unemployment in the last year has jumped from 10.2 percent a year ago to 16.1 percent now.

In a state that is one of the nation’s economic bright spots, it’s even more stunning when you consider that nationwide the unemployment rate for blacks/African-Americans is a little over 11 percent.

The unemployment rate for blacks/African-Americans is nearly 6 times that for whites.

Historically — and this is nationwide — the largest difference between white and black unemployment was almost three times; that was in February 1989.

One of the reasons for big differences between state and national rates is some states have such small black populations that the comparison doesn’t work. So last month, the Washington Post calculated the rates regionally.

The worst unemployment gap? The Midwest.


A 2013 report suggested that causes for the disparity include a younger black/African-American workforce (the Minnesota black/African-American workforce is much younger than the national black/African-American workforce), lower levels of education, and the disparity between African-Americans and whites in regard to criminal records. It’s four times higher than the national average.

But that still doesn’t entirely explain what’s happening in this state in the last year that is affecting only blacks/African-Americans and not almost every other racial and ethnic group. Why have several years of decline suddenly reversed?

Steve Hine, the state’s best expert on the numbers, cautions that the number of households surveyed is smaller now and the unemployment number may be less accurate, “but it’s safe to say the black population in our state is not experiencing the same benefits of the recovery that other populations are.”

“I don’t put a great deal of confidence in the numeric change,” he said, “but I think they do strongly support the perception that comes from other data sources….that the economic lot of the black population is not improving.”

It adds additional support to a report last month that household income among blacks/African-Americans in Minnesota has plunged from 2013 to 2014.

  • BJ

    I’m I reading that the hispanic unemployment rate is less than white, and went down about the same amount that the black unemployment rate went up?

    I wish we had the numbers.

    If we have 50 hispanics’ and 3 got jobs the percent takes a huge drop, so ‘rate’ can be misleading.

    Like you said, Lies. Damn lies. Statistics.

  • jon

    Ok, so minorities are going to fluctuate more because in MN whites out number blacks by a factor of 15… and even more for hispanics.

    If we presume that white unemployment is reflective of economic trends and that education poverty and other “structural violence” makes the numbers higher for minorities…

    My questions are thus:
    Why the spike in hispanic unemployment in 2014, and why is it followed by such a dramatic decline?

    Did 7% of hispanics leave their jobs to go back to school for a year?

  • Dan

    That’s a weird looking graph.

    For the most part, all 3 lines follow a similar trajectory, with the unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics being affected more severely than whites during the recession. Fairly well documented that those groups have higher numbers working lower-skill, lower-wage jobs that are more at risk during a recession. The lines are also more jagged — a lower total population, as well as fits and starts in the recovery.

    From about 2013 onward is the weird part. The Black & Hispanic trend lines look like mirror images. They almost meet in mid-2014, then diverge again.

  • Rob

    Lots of jobs added, but how much do they pay? Are the jobs primarily full-time, or are most of them part-time? Are they jobs with benefits? Stats without context don’t mean diddly.

    • We don’t know because those questions aren’t asked when households are surveyed.

      But I’m curious by what analysis you’re concluding that they don’t mean diddley when the people who specialize in them say they do?

      What it invites is a deeper dive. Somehow. What it doesn’t invite is people simply concluding there’s nothing there. There’s no evidence to support that.

  • Tim Clark

    If you’re not going to put the same graphs up for folks by education level and by criminal history, you’re just making up things to go with your numbers.

    • How do you figure? (No pun intended)

    • Kassie

      Also, if you don’t put up the same graphs for people by how well they dress and if they have straight teeth, “you’re just making up things to go with your numbers” since those things also effect getting hired. And if your name is Jennifer versus Jenni (with a heart over the i). Yes, there are lots of factors that go into hiring, but this is raw data that shows that Blacks are not doing great in the midwest, which we are hearing a lot about lately in terms of poverty, educational outcomes, and other socioeconomic indicators.

      • kennedy

        In order to fix the problem, we need to move from correlation to causation. Why are African Americans lagging economically in Minnesota? Is it caused by racial discrimination in hiring practices? Are African Americans concentrated in occupations that have lower pay? Is career training and education somehow failing? Are there social factors within society that inhibit success in education and child development?

        There is a strong correlation between education and wages. There is a strong correlation between the education level of a child and the education level of their parents. There is a strong correlation between economic status during childhood and economic status in adulthood. A person born into poverty with minimal family success in academics is going to have a difficult time getting beyond that. What can parents do to give their children a better chance at success? How can society help families support their children so they can reach their potential?

  • Postal Customer

    black and hispanic unemployment have been inversely related since 2013. why?

    • Curiously, a Gallup analysis nationwide in 2014 showed the same thing beginning at about the same time. More or less.

      • That trend point looks to be at the point, according to Hine, where Census rejiggered things and surveyed fewer households each month. The numbers are more “volatile” now.

      • Dan

        Yes, let’s use four different shades of green on a line graph, thanks Gallup.

  • Dan Voltz

    That graph makes me sad, but it’s not surprising. I don’t think it’s a secret that Minnesotans are, generally, kind of racist. Sure, it’s not in-your-face racism. I don’t think most Minnesotans are trying to be racist. Rather, there’s an implicit racial bias at work that continues because we won’t acknowledge it (broadly speaking). There’s really no other good explanation for the numbers that consistently show African-Americans in Minnesota get a sub-par education, sub-par representation in the criminal justice system and are consistently passed over for employment.

    I think the answer is not in trying to figure out how the graph is wrong. I think the answer is in engaging the African-American community and taking the time to listen…. I know that’s a really broad, and probably meaningless, thing to say.

    • And that’s what the state officials would like to do. DEED is trying to figure out a way to get more engagement with blacks/African American to get a better picture of who, what, why, where etc., which should be easier because the population is relative concentrated in MN, Hine says.

      They just need to get the money to put it together.

      It’s not for nothing, I suspect, that Dayton this week announced the creation of the ffice of Career and Business Opportunity in the Department of Employment and Economic Development..

      Here’s today’s St. Cloud Times editorial on why that’s important.


      Gov. Dayton deserves praise for taking action on an employment situation that should be of major concern to the state’s business community and all residents: the disparities between employment, career opportunities and household income between Minnesotans of color and the majority of people in the state.

      It is a question of economic fairness.

      Dayton responded by creating the new office of Career and Business Opportunity in the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

      Minnesotans should declare it unacceptable that:

      From 2013-2014, the median income for black Minnesotans (both U.S. and foreign-born) fell by 14 percent in a single year.

      The poverty rate for black people in Minnesota rose from 30.5 percent to 34.7 percent compared to an 11 percent poverty rate for the state overall.

      Almost 40 percent of black children in Minnesota live in poverty.

      The new office is just getting started. The goals for the new office were stated by the DEED commissioner:

      “Addressing economic disparities is core to our mission at DEED, and we are thrilled to house the new Office of Career and Business Opportunity for Minnesotans of color. We are grateful for Governor Dayton’s urgency in providing Minnesotans with greater access to training, career and business opportunities, and will work to ensure this newly-formed office provides leadership in diversifying the state’s workforce,” said DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben.

      Dayton, a former DEED commissioner himself, was wise to house the new office in DEED. The agency has a large volume of data that can help provide insights into the root causes of the disparity and possible paths to solutions.

      However, the new office should be a center of collaboration with other state agencies and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System to look for training opportunities to place people of color into jobs that face shortages of qualified candidates.

      No budget has been established for the new office. We hope that with a program of competitive grants and other measures, programs that will yield tangible results will be started.

      Mentoring programs for black and other minority entrepreneurs should be created quickly. These networks can be invaluable in helping people of color start and sustain new businesses.

      The issues behind the employment gap by race are systemic and complex.

      But employers can take action by making sure that they are including minority candidates in each job search. Apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training and job shadowing are other ways employers can respond.