The Devolving Job Market

The new Minnesota Job Vacancy Survey is out, and while the bigpicture news seems pretty good, the data are actually quite grim.

Good news first: Jobs are becoming plentiful, at least in Minnesota. In fact, the job vacancy rate hit a 13-year high in the second quarter of 2014. There were 1.6 unemployed people per job vacancy in the second quarter compared to 2.1 a year prior.  To give you a little perspective on how good that is, there were 7.9 job seekers per vacancy second quarter 2009.

The bad news: Wages are going down. The median wage per job opening in the second quarter was $12.05 an hour, down from $12.50 a year ago. Median (or midpoint) means that half pay more, half pay less. At $12.05/hour, a full-time job earns $25,064 a year. And half of the currently available Minnesota jobs pay less than that.

More bad news—42% of job openings are part time. This is not atypical. I tracked back a bit, and the percentage of part-time jobs got as low as 38% (2011) and as high as 45% (2013). The reason I consider 42% of vacant jobs bad news is that with the low prevailing median wage, more than 4 in 10 of open jobs won’t even earn that full-time annual wage of $25,064.

A closer look at the data. The largest number of job vacancies come in six occupations: sales, food prep/serving, healthcare support, office/admin support, transportation, and healthcare practitioners and techs. These six occupations make up more than half (55.9%) of job openings.

The single largest occupation with open jobs is sales (and related occupations), with a median wage of $9.99/hr. If you work full time at the median wage, you will earn just over $20,000 a year. But that probably won’t happen because 61% of the jobs are part time. The next most available occupation would be food prep and serving, with a median wage of only $8/hr (annual wage of $16,640 full time). I was surprised to see that 88% of the jobs in this category were for full-time work.

Most of the top six open occupations pay relatively low median wages, with only one coming in over $20/hour (healthcare practitioners and techs—$26.08/hr). Likely not coincidentally, it is also at the bottom of the top six in terms of open jobs. The runner up would be transportation ($13.15/hour).

Another rather grim statistic: Only 36% of the open jobs require any education beyond high school, meaning that about two-thirds (64%) of Minnesota’s job vacancies require only a high school diploma. At a time when higher education is vaunted as the pathway to opportunity, and student loan debt has reached astronomical highs, more college graduates are fighting for a smaller piece of the pie.

High-wage job opportunities in Minnesota are shrinking. Job openings are down for management, computer/math, architecture/engineering, and legal occupations. We are downsizing (and sometimes outsourcing) our high-wage jobs. We are devolving into a low-wage economy.

This is not all bad. Lower wages mean less consumption which is good for planet earth. Maybe not so much for the economy, but I would rather have my trees and lakes than rich bankers and oil magnates.

Over the next 10 years, I anticipate a lot of angry young adults who have pursued education but can’t find jobs that require said education. Bumpy ride.

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