This article ran in the Grand Rapids Herald a nearly 4 years ago. Has anything improved since this article was published in the paper? – GRV-
CITY COUNCIL EXAMINES GRAND RAPIDS UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
By Lisa Rosemore Herald-Review Nov 1, 2013
So why is the unemployment rate in Grand Rapids so high compared to the rest of Itasca County?
Grand Rapids city councilors wanted to know if there was an answer to this question, so during a council work session in June, they asked Councilor Ed Zabinski and City Administrator Tom Pagel to research the issue further and report back to the council at a later date.
That later date came at Monday’s city council work session.
He, along with Pagel, interviewed people from various organizations to see if they could find any answers to the unemployment puzzle.
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, along with KOOTASCA, had concerns about funding, especially the inconsistency of funding, for job programs, Zabinski told the council Monday afternoon.
Another thing they found during their research was many area jobs go unfulfilled because the unemployed don’t have the skills to perform those jobs, he said.
One interesting thing they learned through the Chamber was a worker in Minnesota needs to earn wages of $14.11 per hour match what a person earns on welfare, he said. The Chamber also said the next five to seven years, there will be approximately 50,000 area jobs to be filled as Baby Boomers start to retire.
According to figures from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the unemployment rate in Grand Rapids was 8.7 percent in July and 8.5 percent in August, the most recent data available. In comparison, Duluth was at 5.9 percent (July) and 5.5 percent (August); Itasca County was at 7.2 percent (July) and 6.7 percent (August); Koochiching County was at 7.6 percent (July) and 7.2 percent (August); Aitkin County was 6.6 percent (July) and 5.9 percent (August); Virginia was at 7.7 percent (July) and 7.5 percent (August); and Hibbing was at 8.9 percent (July) and 7.9 percent (August).
According to the memo provided to the city council:
• Both KOOTASCA and the Chamber explained they have “proven, successful programs to help transition unemployed people to jobs,” but the issue is inadequate and inconsistent funding. KOOTASCA provided information that a family of four needs to have an annual income of $52,416 to meet basic needs.
• According to DEED, there were 5,206 job vacancies in Northeast Minnesota. “Of those vacancies, the wages of only 163 fell below the welfare equivalent wage of $14.11 per house.
• Blandin Foundation executives said that resolving an issue like high unemployment requires a commitment of resources, time and talent.
“The consensus was that the community needs some entity or person to champion the issue of unemployment,” the memo said. “We believe that there are several groups in the community who may be potentially able to fill that role.”
• The City of Grand Rapids is not in the business of job training and education; and it does not provide a social net for those in need. Most people interviewed believed the city’s most appropriate role “is cultivating and maintaining an environment supportive of business growth and job creation.”
• Officials from the Grand Rapids Area Foundation said “they are setting strategic goals and have concluded that Itasca County’s poverty levels are an overriding concern for the area.” Several conclusions were reached during discussions with the foundation, some of which include: No one organization is leading a community effort to deal with the area’s high unemployment; there seems to be a “heightened sense of entitlement” in the area; there is little or no demographical data on unemployed people in Grand Rapids or Itasca County; and “we don’t need another report that sits on a shelf.”