The next generation of middle-class jobs will require skills and education that many of today's workers don't have. Structural welders will be in demand; art historians, not as much. New math, science, technology and critical thinking programs are overdue, Gillaspy said.
In Bloomington, Minn., Darlene Miller, the CEO of Permac Industries, a precision machining company, says she struggles to find workers with the skills necessary to use the computers that run her machines.
"I could hire six people today if I could find the right kind of help," said Miller, a member of President Barack Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Miller started a program called Right Skills Now with Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis and South Central College in Faribault and Mankato. The program provides students with math, problem-solving and machine skills.
While retraining and continuing education remain critical for many unemployed workers, it doesn't guarantee success.
For 26 years, Jeannie Burke laid carpet and installed upholstery at the Bayliner boat plant in Pipestone, Minn. But the plant closed during the recession, and the work went overseas.
"It was scary," said Burke, who was laid off Feb. 23, 2009, her 50th birthday. "I didn't know about resumes or any of that."
She followed the advice of almost every employment expert out there: retrain to start a new career.
Burke took advantage of a state program to go to Minnesota West Community College to become a medical assistant in the supposedly recession-proof health care industry. Despite the training, she still hasn't seen a medical assistant's job opening in her rural corner of the state.
Still, her education led to an opportunity. She used her new knowledge of medical terminology and treatment codes to get a job in the insurance department at Pipestone County Medical Center.
"I'm not making as much as I made at Bayliner," Burke said. "It's a struggle, but there's nothing I can do. I'll probably have to work 'til I'm dead."
Joblessness landed hard on Kate-Madonna Hindes, a 30-year-old single mother from Chaska, Minn. She already had heavy debts, health care costs from a bout with cervical cancer. When she lost her job in risk management at Target Corp., she was forced to spend her life savings. Her theology degree wasn't much help.
Then, Hindes went to work for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development helping others who had lost jobs. Finally, she rebooted her professional career as a social media consultant. She says the White House even invited her to apply for a new media post. She didn't get it but vows to remain optimistic about her future.
"My idea of what I need to be middle class has changed completely," Hindes said. "It's just the basic necessities."
Young adults who majored in the wrong subject in college and spent the recession unemployed or underemployed could spend the rest of their lives trying to catch up economically, said Tom Stinson, Minnesota's state economist.
"They'll have to think about resetting their skills," he said.
Hindes is still trying to manage without health insurance for herself and her 5-year-old daughter. That problem could be resolved soon. She's engaged to a man who can put her on his policy. But she still has a lot of financial ground to make up. She says a new outlook will help her do it.
"I don't need gadgets," she said bluntly. "What I need is a healthy bank account and transferable skills."
Surrounded by a half-dozen children at her home day-care center, Denise Sjoberg leans on her experiences as a young mom, her days as an IT worker a distancing memory. She wondered how others would judge her because she was no longer in a higher-wage field, but then she thought about what mattered the most.
"I asked myself what I was good at and what I liked to do," she said. "I liked to volunteer at my children's school, and I liked teaching Sunday school."
She pauses as something distracts her.
"OK," Sjoberg said, "who pooped?"
A toddler raises his hand and grins.
And just like that, Sjoberg is back to work, a new path ahead of her.
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