The recession of 2007-08 that eliminated 7.2 million jobs is now officially over. But economic indicators continue to give mixed signals. As measured by the change in GDP, the economy grows for a few quarters, but then stops or even shrinks in one quarter. Job growth has been strong, but many of the jobs being created are part-time and low-paid. Corporate profitability is at record levels, but worker earnings remain stagnant. The unemployment rate is significantly better than during the recession, but there are still concerns with long-term unemployment, under-employment, and youth unemployment.
The U.S. economy also continues to be characterized by high levels of inequality. After adjusting for inflation, the median hourly wage has declined since 2003 while productivity has increased. In fact, wages and salaries are now at the lowest share of U.S. gross domestic product ever recorded (data collection began in 1947) while the share for corporate profits is at a record high. The economic divide between those with and without college degrees as well as the uneven economic opportunies of different racial and ethnic groups are also areas of concern.
It is illegal for companies to hire undocumented workers (those without proper work authorization), but some employers increasingly rely on immigrant workers to keep labor costs low. In the Twin Cities hospitality industry, estimates of the fraction of the workforce that are immigrants are as high as 35 percent. It is estimated that the hospitality industry is the largest employer of not only immigrants, but also of welfare-to-work program participants and single parents.
On the public policy front, there have been numerous union and activist-led campaigns to increase the minimum wage at the state and local level. In 2014, the Minnesota Legislature passed a new minimum wage law that increases the state minimum wage in three steps over three years. Starting in 2018, Minnesota's minimum wage is slated to increase each year based on inflation. Groups that support workers are also lobbying hard for paid sick leave legislation.