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Good Jobs in a Challenging Labor Market

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By Tim O'Neill
June 2021

This past December Minnesota Employment Review highlighted Income and Poverty in the Twin Cities Metro Area. That article revealed the challenges that many individuals and households of the Metro Area face when it comes to meeting and exceeding the poverty threshold, as well as meeting and exceeding a budget for a healthy and safe cost of living. This time around let's look at how Metro Area individuals and households can meet and exceed those thresholds. More specifically, what are those occupations that have wages that will help lift workers and their families past the poverty line and past a basic needs cost of living?

Persistent Challenges

Metro Area Unemployment Insurance TrendsThe COVID-19 pandemic has brought countless challenges and hardships to individuals and families across the Twin Cities Metro Area, Minnesota, and the United States. In the Metro Area alone more than 800,000 cumulative applicants have filed fir Unemployment Insurance (UI) since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. In July 2021 the region had nearly 11,000 initial UI claims, which was still 84.3% higher than the number of such claims in July 2019 before the pandemic struck. In July 2021 the region had nearly 56,000 regular and PUA continued UI claims, which was 307.6% higher than the number of such claims in July 2019 (Figure 1). While trends show UI claims going down significantly from their peaks in April and May of 2020, clearly thousands in the region are still turning to UI to support themselves and their households.

Metro Area Labor Force and Unemployment Shifting the focus to labor force statistics, while the Metro Area's unemployment rate has dropped significantly from its peak of 10.1% in May 2020, an average of 70,400 unemployed persons continued on the active rolls each month in 2021. During that respective time of year in 2019, the region had an average of 53,400 unemployed persons each month. So, while the Metro Area's unemployment rate had dropped to 3.6% through July 2021 thousands of more unemployed persons lived here each month in the region this year than in the year before COVID-19 struck. And this is only looking at those persons that are actively engaged in the labor market. Between January and July 2021 the Metro Area's labor force size averaged 1,686,300 people. This was about 2.3% less than the region's labor force size during that respective period in 2019. In other words, there are nearly 40,000 less people in the Metro Area's labor force today than there were before the pandemic. These individuals are not counted in the unemployment rate (Figure 2).

While the Twin Cities Metro Area has witnessed lower numbers of people on UI, as well as lower unemployment rates since COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020, challenges are still very much present. This is especially so for populations of color, those with less educational attainment, those with reported disabilities, and those workers not between the ages of 25 and 54. The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has reported how these populations have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Of those unemployed persons today, a much higher share have been unemployed long-term. As of July 2021 41,500 persons in Minnesota were unemployed for more than 27 weeks. That was about four times higher than the number of long-term unemployed before the pandemic. Between the Julys of 2020 and 2021, the median duration of unemployment in the state increased from 8.6 weeks to 17.8 weeks.

Now that we know challenges persist in the Twin Cities Metro Area, especially when it comes to unemployment, let's look at those occupations in the region that individuals can consider to potentially lift them out of unemployment. More specifically, let's consider those in-demand occupations that will help individuals and families meet or exceed the region's basic needs cost of living. Let's also consider education and training. While occupations that require a bachelor's degree or more typically have higher earnings, career-seekers facing challenges today are likely considering occupations that they can obtain relatively quickly. With that in mind, let's consider those occupations that require two-year degrees or less.

Finding the Cost of Living

DEED's Cost of Living tool can provide the benchmark for a basic needs budget in the Metro Area. This basic needs budget represents neither a poverty-living nor a middle-class living but rather a simple living that meets basic needs for health and safety. With this budget, there is no money built in for savings, vacations, entertainment, eating out, tobacco, or alcohol, even though some of these may be considered part of a normal healthy life. Let's consider the basic needs budget for individuals and select family sizes in the Metro Area (Table 1). For an individual with no children, the annual basic needs budget is just over $35,000. To meet this budget, this individual would need to earn an hourly wage of $16.84. Meanwhile, for the typical family of three in Minnesota1, the annual basic needs budget is nearly $65,300. To meet this budget, each adult worker in the family would need to earn an hourly wage of $20.93. Table 1 provides a snapshot of varying individual and family configurations, and the associated basic needs budget in the Metro Area.

Table 1. Basic Needs Cost of Living Estimates in the Metro Area, 2020

                 
Individual or Family Size Yearly Cost of Living Budget Hourly Wage Required for each Working Adult
Single Adult, 0 children $35,028 $16.84
Single Adult, 1 child $66,756 $32.09
Single Adult, 2 children $99,516 $47.84
2 Adults (1 working full-time), 1 child $52,740 $25.36
2 Adults (2 full-time workers), 1 child $77,064 $18.52
2 Adults (1 working full-time, 1 part-time), 1 child* $65,292 $20.93
2 Adults (1 working full-time, 1 part-time), 2 children $86,484 $27.72
2 Adults (1 working full-time, 1 part-time), 3 children $89,148 $28.57
2 Adults (1 working full-time, 1 part-time), 4 children $93,504 $29.97
Source: DEED Cost of Living Tool
*Denotes typical family configuration in Minnesota

Good Jobs in the Metro Area

Knowing where to obtain information on the cost of living in the Metro Area, let's now look at those occupations individuals can potentially go for to address possible challenges faced with unemployment or underemployment. To do this, we turn to DEED's Occupations in Demand (OID) tool. This tool lists current career opportunities by the state and region as determined by regularly updated labor market information. More specifically, the OID tool combines data from DEED's Job Vacancy Survey, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, and UI Statistics to rank occupations from the most in-demand to the least in-demand. In addition to a demand ranking, the OID lists include annual wages, employment projections, educational requirements, and on-the-job training requirements. We will look at those in-demand occupations that require a two-year degree or less. We will also consider the basic needs cost of living for individuals and families.

DEED's Cost of Living tool shows the basic needs budget for an individual with no children in the Metro Area is about $35,000. Using this budget as a benchmark for a 25th-percentile wage2, the Metro Area has 124 occupations in-demand that require a two-year degree or less. About two-thirds of these occupations require just a high school diploma or less. These occupations are spread among a wide variety of occupational groups, but those groups with the highest share (with in-demand occupational examples) include:

  • Healthcare Practitioners and Healthcare Support: 20 occupations
    • Registered Nurses
    • Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
    • Nursing Assistants
    • Medical Assistants
    • Phlebotomists
  • Construction and Extraction: 19 occupations
    • Construction Laborers
    • Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators
    • First-Line Supervisors of Construction and Extraction Workers
    • Electricians
    • Brickmasons and Blockmasons
  • Installation, Maintenance, and Repair: 18 occupations
    • Maintenance and Repair Workers, General
    • Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists
    • Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics
    • Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers
    • Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers
  • Production: 17 occupations
    • First-Line Supervisors of Production and Operating Workers
    • Inspectors, Testers, Sorters, Samplers, and Weighers
    • Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
    • Machinists
    • Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) Tool Operators
  • Office and Administrative Support: 13 occupations
    • First-Line Supervisors of Office and Administrative Support Workers
    • Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive
    • Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
    • Medical Secretaries and Administrative Assistants
    • Court, Municipal, and License Clerks

Table 2 highlights those 20 specific occupations with the highest demand in the Metro Area according to the criteria laid out above. Other in-demand occupations with high wages include Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers, Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Dental Hygienists, Radiation Therapists, First-Line Supervisors of Construction and Extraction Workers, Surgical Technologist, Construction Building Inspectors, Respiratory Therapists, Plumbers, and Civil Engineering Technologists and Technicians.

Table 2. Metro Area Select Occupations in Demand

SOC Code Occupational Title 25th Percentile Wage Median Wage Educational Requirements
291141 Registered Nurses $74,426 $88,275 Associate degree
414012 Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products $57,568 $77,333 High school diploma or equivalent
292061 Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses $47,129 $53,226 Postsecondary non-degree award
411011 First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers $40,412 $50,220 High school diploma or equivalent
311131 Nursing Assistants $36,111 $40,252 Postsecondary non-degree award
533032 Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers $46,501 $53,619 High school diploma or equivalent
431011 First-Line Supervisors of Office and Administrative Support Workers $53,472 $65,465 High school diploma or equivalent
499071 Maintenance and Repair Workers, General $42,512 $51,456 High school diploma or equivalent
151231 Computer Network Support Specialists $57,272 $70,174 Associate degree
472061 Construction Laborers $41,211 $60,734 High school diploma or equivalent
436014 Secretaries and Administrative Assistants $36,771 $45,154 High school diploma or equivalent
319092 Medical Assistants $40,289 $46,355 Postsecondary non-degree award
319097 Phlebotomists $37,339 $41,621 High school diploma or equivalent
292057 Ophthalmic Medical Technicians $45,005 $56,653 High school diploma or equivalent
472073 Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators $71,394 $78,725 High school diploma or equivalent
292035 Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists $70,616 $81,126 Associate degree
299098 Health Information Technologists, Medical Registrars, Surgical Assistants, and Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Workers $51,583 $72,122 Postsecondary non-degree award
493031 Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists $47,189 $58,304 High school diploma or equivalent
151232 Computer User Support Specialists $46,802 $58,065 Postsecondary non-degree award
151257 Web Developers and Digital Interface Designers $62,033 $81,675 Associate degree
Source: DEED Occupations in Demand

Examples of occupations in-demand for adults in a typical family of three include Registered Nurses, Sales Representatives, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers, First-Line Supervisors of Office and Administrative Support Workers, Computer Network Support Specialists, Ophthalmic Medical Technicians, Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators, Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists, and Computer User Support Specialists.

Conclusion

While challenges persist in the Metro Area's labor market, good jobs that are in-demand are out there, good jobs that do not require extensive levels of postsecondary education, that are spread out among nearly every occupational group and industry sector, and that have the wages needed to meet or exceed the region's basic needs cost of living for individuals and families. Many of DEED's labor market tools, including the Occupations in Demand tool and the Career and Educational Explorer can help individuals research and even apply for such jobs. Other resources that can assist individuals with finding work in these occupations include CareerForce and CareerOneStop:

1Partnered, one full-time and one part-time worker, one child, provides a standard yearly cost and hourly wage need for a typical family, regardless of how the weekly work hours are distributed between the two adults.

2 At the 25th percentile wage, 25% of workers are earning less and 75% are earning more. This is closer to what a starting wage may be.

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