In northern Minnesota, tourism jobs pay less than mining jobs

It is often argued that that mining in northern Minnesota poses a threat to the leisure and hospitality sector. If you can’t have one without the other, which doesn’t appear to be true, tourism (leisure and hospitality) jobs are what the folks of northern Minnesota need.

But what do the people of northern Minnesota think? A letter to the Ely Echo at the weekend argued

We have had the opportunity to build prosperous lives here, but only a select few can build a prosperous life based on serving the visitors from Minneapolis, St. Paul, or Chicago, who only come here to vacation.

The rest of us need the kinds of jobs and economic development offered by modern mining operations where starting jobs annually pay $70,000 to $80,000 and generous benefits. That is why many of us who appreciate the opportunities that tourism offers our region also support projects such as Twin Metals Minnesota’s underground mine. 

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ Quarterly Census of Employment & Wages shows the truth of this.

Figure 1 shows Average Annual Pay in all industries for all establishment sizes in Minnesota, Hennepin County and St. Louis County. We see that the Average annual salary in St. Louis County is 80 percent that of Minnesota generally and just 66 percent that of Hennepin County.

But when we look at these vaunted Leisure and hospitality jobs, the picture is even worse. The average annual salary in Leisure and hospitality in St. Louis County was just $16,904 in 2018. When people say that Leisure and hospitality can be the basis for the economy in places like St. Louis County, look at these numbers and ask yourself if that is truly the case. Then consider that, in 2018, the average annual salary for Metal ore mining jobs in St. Louis County was $98,954.

Figure 1: Average Annual Pay, 2018

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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