Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Mythological Skills Gap

Beyond the anecdotes of local employers, the Wisconsin and Milwaukee labor markets show no statistical evidence of a skills shortage:
Wages: If Wisconsin employers were encountering a shortage of skilled labor, wages would be going up, but in Wisconsin real wages have declined since 2000. By contrast, in states such as North Dakota and Wyoming, where there really is demand for and a shortage of skilled labor, caused by a boom in the energy sector, real wages have jumped by double digits since 2000. Wisconsin wage "growth" also lags the national rate, another sign that there is no labor shortage here. 
Hours: In contrast to states with tight labor markets such as North Dakota, there is no evidence that Wisconsin employers are adding hours to their existing workforce, to compensate for an alleged skilled labor shortage. Average weekly hours worked in Wisconsin are down 4.3 percent compared to 2000. 
Occupational Projections: Although promoters of the skills gap idea claim that the skills requirements of future jobs will vastly outstrip the skills and education of Wisconsin workers, occupational projections for the state reveal that 70 percent of projected openings through 2020 will be in jobs requiring a high school diploma or less. 
Underemployment and Workforce Overqualification: In reality, Wisconsin and Milwaukee suffer from the opposite of a skills gap: an economy that generates too few quality jobs and a labor market that is characterized by the underemployment and overqualification of skilled and educated workers. 25 percent of Milwaukee's retail salespersons hold college degrees (up from 11 percent in 2000); 60 percent of Wisconsin's parking lot attendants have had some post-secondary education. The "job gap" has created a skills mismatch of sorts in the Wisconsin and Milwaukee labor markets, but it is the inverse of the one commonly put forward: it is a mismatch of too many highly educated workers chasing too few "good jobs." 
Rising Human Capital: Contrary to skills gap rhetoric, educational attainment has increased dramatically in Wisconsin and Milwaukee over the past decades. Nearly 90 percent of Milwaukee's adult population holds a high school diploma (up from 50 percent in 1970), and 31 percent hold at least a bachelor's degree (up from 11 percent in 1970). Gains in UW-Milwaukee The Skills Gap and Unemployment in Wisconsin 6 educational attainment have occurred for all racial and ethnic groups. All data point to consistently rising human capital formation in Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

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