Employment data shows Minnesota’s metropolitan areas slipping relative to its neighbors

Yesterday saw the release by the Bureau of Labour Statistics of its estimates of Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment.

These can be a useful way to compare economic performance. Minnesota’s economy differs from those of near neighbors such as Iowa and North Dakota. This restricts the usefulness of comparisons of state level data. This variation is a little less pronounced between urban areas.

Minnesota and its neighbors

So what did the BLS data show?

Table 1 shows the 29 metropolitan areas in Minnesota and the neighboring four states ranked by the percentage point declines in their unemployment rates from February 2017 to February 2018. On this measure, Wisconsin (white areas) has done best. Of the thirteen MSAs which have seen their unemployment rate fall fastest, ten were in the Badger State. By contrast, the Dakotas occupied the bottom five spots. Duluth is Minnesota’s best performer.

Figure 1

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Isn’t this because unemployment was higher in these areas of Wisconsin to start with so had further to fall?

Not really. Table 2 shows the 29 metropolitan areas ranked by their unemployment rates of February 2017. Of the fourteen MSAs with the highest unemployment rates, five were in Wisconsin. Four of Minnesota’s five MSAs – Duluth, the Twin Cities, and St Cloud – were in that group.

Figure 2

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Figure 3 shows the 29 metropolitan areas ranked by their unemployment rates of February 2018. The picture is rather different. Wisconsin now has just three of the worst performing fourteen MSAs. By contrast, four of Minnesota’s five are in there with Mankato saving the state’s blushes.

Figure 3

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


With the previously mentioned caveats about state level data, let’s finish with a quick look at our state and its four neighbors in Figure 4.

In February 2017, Minnesota had the highest unemployment rate of the five states. In February 2018, our state still had the highest unemployment rate of the five. As the jobs boom across the St Croix continued, Wisconsin went from fourth to lowest.

Figure 4

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Minnesotans cannot take their economy for granted 

This is just one release from one data set. It would be ridiculous to infer impending economic doom from these numbers. But prosperity cannot be assumed, it must be nurtured. To do this, we have to keep a close eye on all the indicators of economic health.

John Phelan is an economist at Center of the American Experiment.