When it comes to jobs, Minnesota must embrace the future

03 Sep

Press Release: April 21, 2011

For Immediate Release Contact: Ilean Her, 651-757-1740

To view the PDF version of this PR, click here.

(St. Paul, MN). This week Governor Mark Dayton starts his job creation tour of Minnesota. People tell me in my role as Executive Director for the State Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are not doing so bad in this economy as evidence by our unemployment rate. Everyone it seems is focused on job creation and ending unemployment. And since our number is so low, we’ve got nothing to worry about right? Wrong. I do not want to be the harbinger of more bad news, but AAPIs do indeed share the pain in this bad economy, and in some areas, suffer disproportionately.

While it is true that the unemployment rate of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (7.7 percent) is lower than that of whites (8.1 percent) and the national average (9.1 percent) this is not and should not be the only measure of economic health (Footnote 1).

In the recent report, Diversity and Change: Asian American and Pacific Islander Workers, Center for Economic & Policy Research, July 2011, researchers made the following findings about the health and well-being of the AAPI worker:

Many AAPI workers face high unemployment (even in good times), experience working poverty, have problems obtaining health insurance, and struggle with disabilities and language difficulties that impede upward mobility.

  • In the second quarter of 2010, Asian Americans had the highest long-term unemployment rate of America’s major racial and ethnic groups.
  • Over half (51.7%) of unemployed Asian Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and almost 4-in-10 (39%) had been unemployed for more than a year.
  • The employment rate for AAPIs is consistently higher than it is for blacks and Latinos, but consistently lower than it is for whites. All four groups suffered steep declines in employment between 2007 and 2010. In 2007, the employment rate for AAPIs was 70.8 percent; by 2010, it had fallen almost 5 percentage points, to 66.1 percent. (footnote 4)

Over the last decade, the working poverty rate has been consistently somewhat higher for AAPIs than for whites. Working poverty rates are especially high among Bangladeshi (about 1-in-6) and Hmong (about 1-in-9) workers (Footnote 2).

While Minnesota had the nation’s fifth-lowest rate for white children for 2010, its child poverty rate for Asian- Americans was the highest in the nation (Footnote 3).

There is no doubt about it. AAPIs need jobs.

My concern and the area of work that I believe we should focus on is what kind of jobs will be created for our community. Plans are in place to create more construction and technology jobs, small businesses and entrepreneurial loans, green jobs, enforcement of state and federal contracting and purchasing programs, and increase taxes on the rich. All good ideas, but truth be told, I am not interested in creating more of the same old jobs and solutions. History shows that the AAPI community will not be able to access and fully take advantage of these opportunities.

Job creation is a daunting task and if I was tasked to create a million jobs, I would be overwhelmed. The problem is so big and massive. And we’ve been told time and again there’s just not enough money to go around. But at the end of the day, family members, relatives, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, people that I know and are connected to are out of jobs, have bills to pay, and a life to afford.

When I think about solutions for one family at a time, the task becomes manageable. At its most simple form a job is about providing for everyday needs – food, shelter, healthcare, and if there’s any leftover then leisure. A job is supposed to make the cost of living more affordable whether it’s in real dollars or sweat dollars. A healthy market is about earning, spending, and saving. At this current time there is none of those three.

The reality is that the cost of living is too high for Minnesotans. The cost of housing, healthcare, food, gas, electricity, education, cellphone and cable bills, etc is making the American Dream impossible for many. The issue should be how to consume more for less, but policymakers and pundits opine about how people can maintain these cost levels or higher. Our founding fathers did not have this mindset. It wasn’t about working a horse to his maximum; it was about creating a wheel, a cart, a machine to get the maximum out of the horse. Likewise in today’s society it should not be about how a family can afford gas at $4.00 per gallon, but how can a family get the same resource for less than $4.00.

Solutions should be in creating policies, infrastructures, programs, and opportunities that will lower, reduce, or address the cost of living. The solutions will take courage, creativity, innovation, investments, and will. Minnesota’s history is full of innovation: milling – new, faster, easier way to mill flour spurred the growth of Minneapolis; the building of the railroads connected the growth of Minnesota; iron ore transformed and established industry and ushered in the industrial age, new technologies, and transformation of farmlands into miles and miles of concrete and the modern age.

Bold leadership and a bold plan to drastically change the job landscape of Minnesota are needed. Its people cannot continue to work more for less. Technology and its advances may make physical labor obsolete. Gene therapy, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare may extend life and its quality. Smartphones, ipads & notebooks, and computers will continue to dictate our consumption and way of life. Cars may drive us instead of us driving the car.

The future and it’s advances will come and changes will happen. Jobs as we have them now will change to reflect this changing lifestyle. It’s either Minnesota has lost its courage to be innovative and creative or has turned a blind eyes to the real needs of its people and the lives they are living. Whether this new life is post-modern, new-modern, futuristic or whatever, it’s clear that the same old solutions are no longer working and will not work anymore. Like the time of the industrial revolution, America and Minnesota is in the midst of a drastic change. Our leaders must understand this change that has already started and invest in the infrastructure that is needed to sustain and grow this new economy or be left behind.

Now is the time for Minnesota to move forward and embrace the jobs of the future. Tear down the miles of concrete and farmlands and build something new. Our future depends on how we respond today.


1 – Unites States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation, July 2011
2 – 14 Solutions that Expand Job and Economic Opportunity, and Reduce Minnesota’s Disparities, Organizing Apprenticeship Project, December 2010
3 – Child Poverty Rate Rose, Racial Gap Widened, in Minnesota, Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota, March 16, 2011

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