Minnesota didn’t just jump up the rankings for having the lowest unemployment rate in the country. At 1.8%, it also officially has the lowest of any state.
“Just think about it,” said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). “We have the lowest unemployment rate that has ever existed in the United States of America since this figure was recorded.”
This is largely a good thing for workers, as it gives them options and puts upward pressure on wages and benefits. It also forces employers to take a deeper look at the labor pool for workers.
On the other hand, it means higher costs for employers, which can translate into higher prices for goods and services. Ultimately, this could slow the growth of Minnesota’s economy.
Grove took note of the record during a Monday visit to a Minnesota Valley Transit Authority parking lot in Eagan, the latest stop in DEED’s “Summer of Jobs” campaign.
This summer, the agency highlighted people who tend to be overlooked for jobs — older workers, immigrants, people with disabilities and people recently released from correctional institutions — as a solution to the tight labor market of the state.
Minnesota’s unemployment rate had hit record highs in recent months, but trailed Nebraska for the lowest rate in the nation.
When Minnesota’s June rate came out last Thursday, it was half the national rate of 3.6% and DEED officials speculated the state may have overtaken Nebraska for the lowest rate.
On Friday, they confirmed that was the case when the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the full list of state data. It also showed that Minnesota has the lowest unemployment rate on record since the BLS began tracking in 1976.
One of Minnesota’s biggest challenges is that its workforce of nearly 3 million has about 73,000 fewer workers than before the pandemic. There are now more than two job openings for every unemployed person in the state.
However, with rising wages, employers may soon slow the hiring rate. And interest rates are also rising as the Federal Reserve tries to rein in inflation. Many economists expect unemployment to rise later this year as employers make trade-offs due to rising costs for workers and capital.
Monday’s event focused on hiring people with disabilities, who tend to have higher unemployment rates than the general population.
“Many are ready, willing and able to work,” Grove said. “They’re incredibly loyal workers. They’re excellent problem solvers. They’ve spent their whole lives solving problems.”
DEED provides pre-employment transition services for people with disabilities through partner organizations where students receive training and job exposure. The goal is to ensure that every student has at least one paid work experience before graduating. It helps them build skills and confidence — and their resumes — so they can land future jobs, said Dee Torgerson, director of vocational rehabilitation services at DEED.
She encouraged employers to contact DEED if they want to connect with workers with disabilities.
Burnsville-based Schmitty & Sons, a contractor that works with MVTA, recently hired four students with disabilities to deep clean buses this summer.
Allie McCullough, Schmitty’s human resources manager, was unsure how she was going to fill those positions after some of the students she hired in previous summers moved on to other jobs.
So she was thrilled when she received an email from Great Work, which is one of DEED’s partners that runs a bridging program, about offering a tour for the students. Even better, she had four jobs for them that paid $16 an hour.
“They’ve been wonderful employees,” McCullough said. “We should have scrambled until the last minute, I think, to find people to work for this summer. So it’s been great.”
One of the students, Asher Tholl from Burnsville, said the job isn’t that difficult, other than dealing with some of the “gravel and grime”.
“It’s an easy, simple job,” Tholl said. “And the pay is good, which is always a plus.”
He plans to work at his father’s veterinary clinic to help with janitorial duties once he finishes his summer job.
Chelsea Gibbs, founder and director of Great Work, noted that the state has historically relied on separate work options or sheltered workshops to employ people with disabilities. So having them in more “community jobs” is somewhat new for many employers.
As a result, many companies may not be confident in their ability to hire people with disabilities because they don’t have the experience to do so, but she noted that organizations like hers can help with the transition.
With a little help and support, she said many will find it’s “not a big leap” to do so.