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MN Jobless Rate Falls, But Many Families Still Struggling

December 16, 2011

MANKATO, Minn. - Minnesota's unemployment rate fell in November to 5.9 percent. That's a three year low, but those who work with families in poverty say it's no time to celebrate.

Many people have run out of unemployment benefits, says John Woodwick, executive director of the Minnesota Valley Action Council in Mankato, so instead of working to broaden their skills, they're back to working at anything that means a paycheck.

"It may not pay enough to fully provide for their family, but they're choosing to get whatever kinds of jobs, or multiple jobs, and then foregoing that training that actually could get them a better job."

Part of the problem, Woodwick says, is a lack of vision among some leaders and lawmakers.

"In my opinion, we are not focusing on a long-term solution. We're caught up in the moment. Cutting programs that assist people to be self-reliant or self-sufficient is just making things worse for them, for the entire state of Minnesota."

Despite all the efforts to date, Woodwick says, the light at the end of the tunnel doesn't seem to be getting any brighter.

"There is no 'things getting better for people,' it is just people slipping and falling behind, so if you want to look at 'Are we making progress?' - 'No.' "

The state's jobless rate has fallen from 7.2 percent to 5.9 percent in the past three months, but at the same time the state lost nearly 23,000 jobs.

The number of Minnesotans living in poverty grew to 11.6 percent in 2010, Woodwick says, putting the total at nearly 600,000.

"If you want to think of it in a more visual context, that's the entire population of the cities of Minneapolis, Rochester, Duluth and Owatonna combined."

The poverty level is about $22,000 in annual income for a family of four.

The Minnesota Valley Action Council is part of the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, the state's largest social service network, serving those struggling with poverty in all 87 counties.

Unemployment data is online at positivelyminnesota.com.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN