The Washington Post had a major front page article highlighting the argument that the reason that the country has high unemployment is that workers don’t have the skills needed for the jobs that are available.
While it features comments from several employers, the only data that it presents to support this case is that the number of job openings reported by the Bureau of labour Statistics is 900,000 higher than the low in the summer of 2009. The number of openings is still down by more than 1,000,000 from pre-recession levels.
Furthermore, even if every last job opening were filled (an absurd situation, since there will always be some flux in the labour market), it would still leave almost 80 per cent of the unemployed without jobs.
The anecdotal evidence from employers suggests that the problem is that people who run businesses don’t understand basic economics. It presents comments from one employer who complains that he can’t find workers for jobs that pay $15 an hour. This is not a very good wage. It would be difficult for someone to support themselves and their children on a job paying $15 an hour ($30,000 a year). If the company president understand economics, then he would raise wages enough so that the jobs were attractive to workers who have the necessary skills.
If the economy were actually suffering from a problem of structural unemployment, then we should be seeing substantial sectors of the economy, either by region or occupation, where wages are rising rapidly. We don’t see this. There is no major industry or occupational grouping where there is evidence of large pay increases. We should also see big increases in average weekly hours, as firms try to work their existing workforce harder due to the unavailability of additional workers. We don’t see this either.
In other words, the data provide essentially zero support for the claim that the economy’s problem is that workers don’t have the right skills for the available jobs. All the evidence supports the idea that the problem is simply we have not generated enough demand (i.e. the problem is with the people who design economic policy, not with the country’s workers).
Interestingly, in spite of the lack of evidence, we continue to see stories about how unemployment is structural. Rather than relying on evidence, these pieces invariably include anecdotes from employers who apparently don’t understand that if you can’t get the workers you need, then you must offer a higher wage.
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