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Regional report shows the most people working, rejoining labor market in nearly 30 years

Just when it looks like the region's labor market is tapped out, another 2,000 people clock in. Across St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas counties -- the Duluth metro area -- more than 140,000 people were picking up paychecks in February. That's the ...

Just when it looks like the region's labor market is tapped out, another 2,000 people clock in.

Across St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas counties - the Duluth metro area - more than 140,000 people were picking up paychecks in February. That's the highest number the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has recorded since 1990. The labor force, those working and looking for work, hit a new high as well at 148,000.

"Especially in light of some of the conversations about the population stagnating in the region, one of the effects of a tight labor market is the ability to attract those to the workforce, or attract those to jobs," said Erik White, regional labor analyst with DEED.

Average earnings grew last month as well, fulfilling another promise of a tight labor market.

With a 5 percent unemployment rate, there are still those getting left out - but even this rate is the lowest the area has experienced in a February in nearly 20 years.

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Mining, construction and logging jobs jumped 7 percent in the past year, with manufacturing notching a 2 percent rise. While retailers shed seasonal jobs between January and February, gains in education and health more than made up for the losses.

"To see those gains in that sector lets us know what's going on in the economy. And we're continuing to see hiring," White said.

Unemployment in Duluth city limits remained stable since January at 3.5 percent, with Cloquet posting another 5.4 percent jobless rate as well. About 5 percent of jobseekers in Virginia couldn't find a job last month; it was 5.4 percent in Hibbing.

Though there is no local data, black Minnesotans are seeing unemployment rates drop substantially statewide - though they remain well above white unemployment rates. In February the rate fell to 6.9 percent from 8.5 percent last year.

"We do know there are economic disparities," but the gap is starting to close, White said.

Minnesota's overall unemployment rate improved to 3.9 percent last month.

Superior's jobless rate was 3.7 percent in February, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development; Wisconsin's rate fell to a historically low 3.3 percent.

Nationally, about 4.4 percent of people looking for a job did not have one last month.

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Brooks Johnson was an enterprise/investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune from 2016 to 2019.
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