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Upper Minnesota River Valley sees rise in low-wage job openings

Tom Cherveny / Tribune file photo While the number of new job openings in the five counties of the Upper Minnesota River Valley has risen substantially, the "quality" of those openings are questioned by the Jobs Now Coalition. Only 38 percent of all openings offer health care, the smallest share of openings in any of the state's 13 economic regions.

MONTEVIDEO — Job openings continue to rise in the five counties comprising the Upper Minnesota River Valley, but increasingly they are in low wage positions.

The Jobs Now Coalition, which supports a higher minimum wage and worker bargaining rights, cited the five counties for a rise in job openings that is accompanied by what it called a decline in quality.

"You don't have a jobs crisis out there, but you do have a 'good jobs' crisis,'' said Kevin Ristau, education coordinator with the St. Paul-based Jobs Now Coalition.

Ristau said data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development from the fourth quarter of 2017, the latest available, showed 820 job openings in the counties of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine. That's a 335 percent rise compared to the same quarter only five years earlier.

Yet only 38 percent of the openings offered health care benefits. That is the smallest share of openings in any of the state's 13 economic regions, according to information compiled by Ristau from state data.

The data from the Department of Employment and Economic Development showed that a quarter of all the openings in the region were temporary or seasonal, and that 42 percent were part-time. The median wage offered for part-time positions was $12.

The full-time jobs, comprising 58 percent of the openings, offered a median wage of $15.55 in the region, according to Ristau.

Ristau said that low-wage job openings are rising all across the state, and that an increasing number of those openings are for part-time employment.

Trucking, food preparation and serving, and production were the job categories with the greatest number of openings in the Upper Minnesota River Valley counties.

He said the organization is working to call attention to the job opening numbers to make a moral argument that "wages need to go up instead of down.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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