The agency was originally created in 1977 as a merger of the former Departments of Employment Services and Vocational Rehabilitation, the Governor's Manpower Office, and the Economic Opportunity Office, which administered anti-poverty programs. In 1985, State Services for the Blind joined the department, which was renamed the Department of Jobs and Training (1985 Minn. Laws Special Session 1 Chap. 14 Art. 9).
The original name, Minnesota Department of Economic Security, was restored in 1994 by the legislature since it fully reflected the role, mission, and responsibility of the agency.
In 2003, MDES merged with the Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED) to become the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).