Plight of MN Iron Range gets detailed by the Washington Post


Minnesota's Iron Range and the struggles facing its residents are chronicled in a Washington Post article published this week.

Washington Post reporter Ylan Q. Mui visited the region, and explained how what's happening with China's economy is impacting Minnesota's iron ore mines.

For a decade, China bought every piece of iron it could find, as industries there built railroads, apartment buildings, roads and more.

But in the past few years, that came to a screeching near-halt – and without China there to keep demand high, prices for iron ore have dropped, and the pellets made in Minnesota are now sitting there with nowhere to go, the Washington Post explains.

Aaron Brown, an author and blogger in northern Minnesota, also gave his on-the-ground reaction to the Washington Post piece, saying "it's the way that Mui [the article's author] ties the human connection into the story that makes it worth reading."

Lost jobs, idled mines

So what has the past year been like on the Iron Range?

At least seven of Minnesota’s 11 major mining operations are idled or shut down, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

Nearly 2,000 workers have been laid off – some permanently, some temporarily.

In Itasca County, where mining is a key economic driver, the unemployment rate was at 8.1 percent in December 2015, according to state figures. That's well above the statewide rate of 3.5 percent.

Cliffs Natural Resources, which operates the United Taconite and Northshore Mining sites, recorded a net loss of $748 million in 2015. (The company's CEO said last month however he expects those two operations to be up and running again this year, sometime after March.)

In December, White House Chief of Staff (and Minnesota native) Denis McDonough visited the Iron Range, saying he and the president’s administration understand the urgency of the situation. But fixes aren’t clear-cut.

Some officials – including Minnesota's U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken – blame the downturn at least partially on countries including China and India, which have been accused of illegally dumping cheap, foreign-made steel that's ended up in the U.S. – meaning there’s less of a demand for steel made by companies here in the states.

The New York Times explored that problem in-depth in this article.

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