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Minnesotans earn title of hardest-working

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota is the hardest-working state in the nation, according to a new report by the U.S. Labor Department.

Last year, Minnesota had a greater share of the total population in the labor force than any other state, according to the recently released statistics.

"I intend to work here until my legs won't bring me in here any more," said Kathryn Gibson, 64, who works part time as a receptionist at Bloomington-based Retirement Enterprises.

Minnesota's work ethic isn't anything new. The state has been at or near the head of the pack on labor force participation for most of the 1990s, said Jay Mousa, head of research at the Minnesota Department of Economic Security.

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"It's really been a trend over the last 10 years," Mousa said.

Several factors might drive the trend, including people who have postponed retirement, a work force in Minnesota that's better educated than most, increased real wages, demographic trends, and new jobs attracting job seekers from other states.

Minnesotans also might be determined to find work. The labor force is defined as people who either have a job or are seeking one.

"People don't give up, because they know they can find a job," said Brian McCall, economist at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

Senior citizens also are being forced to return to work to obtain affordable health insurance. A growing number of people who turn to Retirement Enterprises for jobs are working to avoid depleting their savings on health care, said the company's founder, Cynthia Cook.

"Many would like to be enjoying their retirement, but because of the financial stress of rising health insurance premiums, they're forced to take full-time jobs," Cook said.

Mousa points out that Minnesota also is well educated. The 2000 Census found that 28 percent of Minnesotans age 25 and older had college degrees compared with 25.1 percent nationally.

The largest migration of population into Minnesota in the state's history in the last decade was fueled by a wave of new jobs. At last count, 2,650,299 people were working in Minnesota, a gain of more than 400,000 from a decade ago.

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"We have created a significant number of jobs during the 1990s," Mousa said. "More people have been attracted into the work force because of the employment opportunities."

Daniel Mitchell, professor of management at the University of California at Los Angeles, said Minnesota's high labor force participation rate might be partly explained by the state's climate. Not its economic climate, but its weather.

Minnesota exports retirees to California, Florida, Arizona and other locales and attracts few retirees from other states, Mitchell said. In other words, when many Minnesota workers become idle after a lifetime of work, they leave and reduce the work force participation rate in sunshine states.

Those who stay in Minnesota might be less financially independent than those who move, and they might be more likely to find part-time jobs rather than to stay at home, Mitchell said.

"That may be a downsizing of their commitment to the work force, but not a total withdrawal," he said.

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