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Expect a slowdown in job growth, experts say

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jobs prognosticators expect a bit of a bad turn in 2007. The economists and staffing industry don't see jobs going away, overall. But between a couple of optimistic forecasts and one recession prediction, many opinions cluster in t...

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jobs prognosticators expect a bit of a bad turn in 2007.

The economists and staffing industry don't see jobs going away, overall. But between a couple of optimistic forecasts and one recession prediction, many opinions cluster in the middle, expecting job growth to be about half that of this year -- "a softened job pace," according to one, and "a subtle downward shift," according to another.

That same middle group also sees no signs that labor shortages will quicken the pace of raises, so they expect a continuation of this year's average raise of 3 percent to 3.5 percent.

For individuals looking ahead, everything depends on what work they do. Accountants, engineers, IT professionals and nurses still will be in high demand, according to the predictions. Not so for many who work in real estate or construction.

Still, the overall trend matters to everyone, because the reduced circumstances of some tend to spill over into the livelihoods of others.

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Unemployed carpenters, for example, will cut back on their cable channels, stop in at fewer restaurants and hold off buying their next cars.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects the state will add 38,000 jobs by next fall, down from 69,000 during the previous 12 months.

According to the department, the only substantial losses to come are in construction, down 2,000. The strongest job growth in Minnesota will be in education and health care, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality.

Those were the same ups and downs in most of the 2007 predictions for Minnesota and the country as a whole.

Some lists of "hot jobs" came up with more specifics: sales representatives, translators, transportation workers (especially railroad), legal secretaries and auto mechanics.

Some of the hardest hit will be skilled tradespeople in construction, such as plumbers and carpenters.

Mike Tappe, owner of Tappe Construction Co. in Eagan, Minn., employs 365 carpenters as a subcontractor, mostly to housing builders.

With homebuilding permits down from 1,432 units in November 2005 to 866 last month, Tappe said his revenue is down 20 percent this year. He expects another 20 percent drop next year, with the sharpest decline in the first six months. Tappe has cut overtime hours for his carpenters, but he's proud that he hasn't laid off any of them -- especially as resumes pour in from other out-of-work carpenters.

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"The times right now are very serious for everybody in the home-building industry," he said.

Minnesota state economist Tom Stinson predicted that the state will add 20,000 jobs between the fourth quarter of this year and that of 2007. He projects 9,000 more jobs in health care and social assistance, and 6,000 more in professional and business services, but 6,000 fewer in construction and 2,000 fewer in manufacturing.

"There's a bunch of stuff that's less than sunny going on," he said.

Wells Fargo senior economist Scott Anderson, in Minneapolis, also predicted a slowdown, with Minnesota's payrolls going up 1.1 percent in 2007, compared with 2 percent this year.

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