High Education and Higher Labor Force Participation

by Cameron Macht

Minnesotans are already well known for our hard work ethic and educational achievements, but recent data again show the quality of our workforce.  According to the newest estimates from 2011, Minnesota has the fourth highest labor force participation rate in the United States, behind Alaska, Nebraska, and North Dakota. Minnesota’s labor force participation rate (for adults age 25 and over) was 70.8 percent, which was five percentage points higher than the national rate. The data clearly show that residents in Minnesota are willing and available to work.


In addition to work ethic, Minnesota residents are also well educated. For example, Minnesota has the second highest percentage of adult residents age 25 and over with at least a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as some college, an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or higher; at 92 percent.


About one-third (32.4 percent) of Minnesotans aged 25 years and over had a bachelor’s degree or higher, ranking us 10th in the United States. But bachelor’s and advanced degrees do not provide a complete picture of educational attainment. In Minnesota, almost one-third (32.7 percent) of people aged 25 years and over have attended some college or earned associate’s degrees. That placed Minnesota 13th overall.


When looking at postsecondary education in sum – including everyone with some college experience, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or advanced degrees – Minnesota jumps up to fourth in the U.S., behind only Colorado, Utah, and Washington.


Not everyone is in the labor force. People “not in the labor force” can include students, stay at home moms and dads, retired workers, seasonal workers in an off season, institutionalized people, and people doing only incidental unpaid family work.


Looking just at Minnesota’s active labor force participants (so excluding those adults who are not in the labor force) we rank second in the U.S. in the educational attainment of our workforce. About 35.3 percent of Minnesota’s adult workers have some college or associate’s degrees, and another 36.4 percent have bachelor’s degrees or higher, meaning that 71.7 percent of our labor force age 25 and over had post-secondary education.



In Minnesota, labor force participation rates went up with each increasing level of educational attainment, as seen in the table below. For adults aged 25 years and over who had not completed high school, less than half (44.0%) were in the labor force. For workers with a high school diploma or equivalent, about three-fifths were actively engaged in the labor force. Labor force participation rates really jumped for adults with some college or associate’s degree, as more than three-fourths (76.3%) of adults in this category were in the labor force. But the highest labor force participation rates occurred for adults with bachelor’s degrees or higher, at 79.6 percent.


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