Labor and Employment

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The search for more jobs continues to be a high priority in parts of the Midwest suffering from high rates of unemployment. But in states such as North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota — which have the three lowest jobless rates in the nation — the hunt is on for more workers.
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Some Midwestern states continue to shed public sector jobs, new U.S. Census Bureau data show, with Michigan leading the nation in the decline of state and local government employment between 2007 and 2012.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the 2014 president of The Council of State Governments, sees education as a key to developing a workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. But he believes states also can do other things to attract jobs.

On Thursday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a new minimum wage law, making it the first state to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, and as expected the bill has sparked a partisan battle. While Democrats argue that the law will pull people out of poverty, Republicans contend that the increase will be harmful to Connecticut businesses.

Technological advancements, particularly in the manufacturing area, mean that workers need more specialized skills to both get and keep jobs. To get to those skilled workers, companies must make a decision: Look for new, qualified employees or retrain their current workforce.

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In Minnesota, state legislators have created a new program to better help displaced workers turn a lost job into an entrepreneurial opportunity. Meanwhile, that state and a growing number of others in the Midwest are trying to keep more people from losing their jobs in the first place — by reworking unemployment-insurance programs in ways that encourage employers not to lay off workers when business is slow, but to instead reduce their hours.

In December 2013, the national unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, the lowest level in five years. After hitting a post-recessionary high of 10 percent in October 2009, the unemployment rate has fallen slowly and steadily, but remains nearly 2 percentage points higher than it was when the recession began in December 2007. In December 2013, North Dakota (2.6 percent), South Dakota (3.6 percent) and Nebraska (3.6 percent) had the lowest unemployment rates, while Rhode Island (9.1 percent), Nevada (8.8 percent), and Illinois (8.6 percent) had the highest rates.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. In 2012, an estimated 3.6 million people—or 4.7 percent of all hourly paid workers—made at or below the federal minimum wage. The young and the undereducated are more likely to earn the minimum wage, although those older than 25 make up a significant portion of the people earning at or below the minimum wage.

As of Jan. 1, 2014, the minimum wage increased over 2013 rates in 13 states—Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Increases ranged from 10 cents an hour in Arizona, Montana and Ohio, to $1 an hour in California and New Jersey. California’s minimum wage will increase from $8 an hour to $9 an hour later in July.

A 2011 study by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute found that American manufacturing companies could not fill as many as 600,000 positions—or 5 percent of manufacturing jobs—due to a lack of qualified candidates, and 56 percent of manufacturers anticipate that shortage will increase in the next three to five years. Technological advancements, particularly in the manufacturing area, mean that workers need more specialized skills to both get and keep jobs. States are stepping forward to help solve these issues, creating or expanding programs aimed at helping the private sector get the skilled labor force they need to be competitive.

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