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Sunday, June 16, 2013

'Don’t Blame the Work Force'

From today's links:

Don’t Blame the Work Force, Editorial Board, NY Times: There is a durable belief that much of today’s unemployment is rooted in a skills gap, in which good jobs go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. This is mostly a corporate fiction, based in part on self-interest and a misreading of government data.
A Labor Department report last week showed 3.8 million job openings in the United States in April — proof, to some, that there would be fewer unemployed if more people had a better education and better skills. But both academic research and a closer look at the numbers in the department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey show that unemployment has little to do with the quality of the applicant pool. ... [presents numbers and research] ...
If a business really needed workers, it would pay up. That is not happening, which calls into question the existence of a skills gap as well as the urgency on the part of employers to fill their openings. Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “recruiting intensity” — that is, business efforts to fill job openings — has been low in this recovery. Employers may be posting openings, but they are not trying all that hard to fill them, say, by increasing job ads or offering better pay packages.
Corporate executives have valuable perspectives on the economy, but they also have an interest in promoting the notion of a skills gap. They want schools and, by extension, the government to take on more of the costs of training workers that used to be covered by companies as part of on-the-job employee development. They also want more immigration, both low and high skilled, because immigrants may be willing to work for less than their American counterparts.
There are many reasons to improve education, to welcome immigrants and to advance other policies aimed at transforming the work force and society. But a skills gap is not among them. Meeting today’s job challenges requires action to improve both the economy and pay, including government measures to create jobs, strengthen health and retirement systems, and raise the minimum wage. Fretting about a skills gap that does not exist will not help.

On the "If a business really needed workers, it would pay up" and "recruiting intensity" statements above, here's a rerun of a post of mine on this topic (this is from 2011):

... With all the talk about whether our unemployment problem is cyclical or structural (I believe it's mostly cyclical), many people are looking at measures of mismatches to assess how much of the problem is structural. But care needs to be taken in the interpretation of mismatch numbers. Here's why.
Suppose that you run a business in Town A and you need someone to run a complicated piece of equipment. Unfortunately, the size of your town is relatively moderate, and there are no qualified job applicants available. You have advertised the job for weeks, but no takers. This sounds like a classic case of structural unemployment -- there is a need for workers with a different skill set -- but it may not be a structural problem.
Suppose also that the economy is in a recession, and business has not been good. Because of that, you can't offer a very high wage. It turns out that in the very next town, Town B, there is a qualified worker who was laid off due to a business failure caused by the recession, but at the wage you are offering the worker is not willing to move. The worker has a job and is surviving, though the pay is much less than before and the worker is underemployed -- the worker is mismatched -- but the family is getting by.
However, if things were better -- if the economy was humming away at full employment -- the employer in Town A could offer a higher wage and induce the worker in Town B to move. If this is the case, then this unemployment is cyclical, not structural. There is a mismatch, but the mismatch is driven by lack of demand.
The point is that when we talk about structural unemployment, we assume aggregate demand is not the problem. Thus, structural unemployment must be measured under an assumption that demand is sufficient to return us to full employment. ... If an increase in demand will fix the problem, as in the example above, then it's not a structural problem.
The bottom line is that to measure structural unemployment in a recession, it's not enough to simply survey the labor market and count the mismatches. You have to know if those mismatches would persist at a level of demand consistent with full employment. To the extent that the mismatch problem is due to lack of demand, and wages and prices that are too low to induce resource movements to their best use, the problem is cyclical, not structural.

    Posted by on Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 09:42 AM in Economics, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (46)

          


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