News Column

Minnesota Job Scene Cools as Winter Hangs On

Apr 19 2013 5:57AM

Minnesota employers cut 5,200 jobs in March, and you can shovel some of the blame onto the state's gloomy winter weather.

Among businesses that lost jobs were full-service restaurants, and the delayed launch of patio dining might be a factor, said Steve Hine, director of labor market information for the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Data released Thursday, April 18, showed the first March jobs decline for restaurants in about 23 years, he said.

Hine said employment usually picks up in the spring as restaurants return outdoor tables to service after a winter layoff.

Spring's stage fright also showed up in Minnesota's retail sector, which lost 2,100 jobs, part of the weakness being slower growth at building material and garden supply stores, Hine said.

Again, blame the weather. Those stores did add 300 jobs in March, but that compares with 2012's March gain of 1,200 jobs.

Overall, Minnesota's unemployment rate dropped 0.1 percentage point in March, to 5.4 percent, but that was due in large part to fewer people looking for work, Hine said.

Thursday's data release also revised Minnesota's February's job gains downward to 9,900 from 14,500 jobs.

The state's March jobs report was "somewhat of a disappointment" after several strong months, said Toby Madden, a regional economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Despite the job losses in March and the downward revision for February, Madden said,

"it still looks like Minnesota's economy will grow at an above-average rate this year."

The Minneapolis Fed projects the state will see a 2.2 percent increase in employment this year, well above its average of 1.4 percent.

One sector expected to help is home building, Madden said. He predicted that increased construction will spill over into other areas of the economy with consumers buying items such as refrigerators and other household goods.

Another likely casualty of the March weather was growth in Minnesota construction jobs. That sector did record 3.1 percent growth in employment, but that compares with a 5 percent gain last year, when winter was muted and spring had been unleashed by March.

But weather probably wasn't the only drag on March job numbers.

National economic data for March showed some declines, with retail spending growing at its slowest pace since the recession ended. Consumer confidence also took a dive last month, and the stock market's swoon this week was seen by some as a reaction to the weak national reports.

In the broader view, all of Minnesota's 11 major employment sectors still have positive year-over-year growth, Hine said. But construction, and the leisure and hospitality areas, only saw slight increases.

The state also saw the number of online job postings fall by 4,400 in March. That tracks with the rest of the nation, where all but four states recorded declines

"We've taken a step back," Hine said. But he noted that the state's long run of job gains -- up 46,374 compared to a year ago -- was due for a breather.

"We've had such strong growth, it's not unusual to have an off-setting correction," he said.



Source: (c)2013 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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