Closing the wage gap – part 2

Highest paying occupations drive the difference between the Twin Cities seven-county metro and the rest of Minnesota.

Kelly Asche, Senior Researcher

March 2024

As the search for workers intensifies throughout Minnesota, the conversation around wages and the gap between rural areas and the seven-county metro continues to come up. To try and add some nuance to that discussion, a few weeks ago we took a look at whether it was realistic think we can “close the gap” in wages between rural areas and the seven-county metro. Even though wages have increased faster in rural Minnesota than the Twin Cities, the growth would need to be nearly 200% in twenty years to completely close it. That’s likely unrealistic.

Another wrinkle in these conversations is that comparing  between rural and metro areas on median or mean wages can gloss over significant details, leading everyone to believe that all occupations pay significantly lower in rural compared to metropolitan areas.

Below is a chart comparing the differences in median wages for each occupation category broken out by the planning regions representing rural Minnesota and the seven-county metro. Figure 1 shows that a majority of occupations have median hourly wages that are within $5 of the wages for the same occupation in the seven-county metro. However, there are a few outliers, such as management, which has a median wage difference of up to $20 less per hour in many planning regions compared to the metro.

Figure 1. Most of the occupations are within $5 of the median hourly wage in the seven-county metro (the $0 line). However, there are a few outliers (i.e., Management). Data: MN DEED – Occupational Employment Statistics


The occupations that differ the most in median hourly wages from the seven county metro are:

  • Management,
  • Legal, and
  • Computer and Mathematics.

These occupations pay $10 or more less per hour in planning regions outside of the seven-county metro. Why does this matter? Because if a larger percentage of total employment are composed of these particular occupations, they will drive the overall average or median wage higher or lower as well.

As an illustration, Figure 2 gives those three occupations for each planning region as a percentage of total employment. Even though these occupations make up less than 10% of total employment in each region, they make up a significantly higher percentage of employment in the Twin Cities. The combination of higher wages and a larger percentage of employment make the overall wages for the region higher.

Figure 2. The occupations that have significantly larger median wages in the seven-county metro vs. Greater Minnesota also make up a larger percentage of the total employment. Data: MN DEED – Occupational Employment Statistics


The occupations that drive the wage and earnings gap between Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities are typically a few occupations that represent significant gaps. For most other occupations, the wages are still lower in Greater Minnesota but with much less of a gap.

To compare mean or median wages between metro and rural areas can be helpful to get a quick idea of what the earnings comparison might potentially be, but one can’t jump to the conclusion that the gaps are significant across every occupation. There’s a lot of nuance and details within the data and comparing occupational wages between rural and urban can be much more telling and helpful.