Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Zombie Skills Gap Meme That Won't Die

Friday, On Real Time With Bill Maher, guest Mike Rowe got the ball rolling, continuing the mythical meme that is the skills gap.

We've all heard it - I know such-and-such company that just can't find any workers to do the numerous positions they are trying to fill. According to the proponents of this fairy tale, the U.S. just isn't training workers to do the jobs businesses need.

Yet, when we actually look at the data, a classic supply-and-demand explanation (with most of the blame on low wages) appears.

As UWM professor Marc Levine notes, "There is, in short, little labor market evidence – when we examine job openings, wages, hours, employment projections, or worker credentials— of a skills gap or structural unemployment...National data on wages, hours, job vacancies, and employment projections provide no evidence that a skills gap has caused high unemployment in the U.S. as a whole –- either before or after the Great Recession. This finding is consistent with the conclusions of a daunting array of research and analysis on the subject. As we have seen, these include: Studies by: a) Scholars from such top universities as Duke, Berkeley, Penn, Stanford, MIT, and UW-Madison; b) Economists from the Brookings Institution, the Roosevelt Institute, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and the Economic Policy Institute; c) Economists at the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago; and d) Consultant-economists such as the Boston Consulting Group. In addition, articles and commentary by: a) Two recent Nobel Laureates in Economics (Krugman and Diamond); and b) Two former heads of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (Tyson and Lazear), thoroughly reject the skills gap or structural unemployment as explanations for our underperforming labor market."

The U.S. does have a few industries, in a few locations across the country, where specifically-trained workers are needed. Do you know what happened in those few places? The already-employed workers saw their hours increase to meet the demand, to fill-in for the needed-workers. Wages also rose to attract workers to the job openings.

This structural malady is a small proportion of unemployment. As Rortybomb informs, "A report the IMF put out - The Great Recession and Structural Unemployment - which found find that structural unemployment is 1%-1.75% nationwide, with skills being 0.5%."

In most places, where some falsely claim a skills gap, wages for new hires have not risen, nor have the hours of those currently-employed increased.

Dave Alitg, in The Skills Gap: Still Trying To Separate Myth From Fact, stated, "We have yet to find much evidence that problems with skill-mismatch are more important postrecession than they were prerecession. We'll keep looking, but—as our colleagues at the Chicago Fed conclude in their most recent Chicago Fed Letter—so far the facts just don't support skill gaps as the major source of our current labor market woes."

As I've written, "In reality, this is simple supply-and-demand economics. People don't want to work at grueling jobs for low pay, minuscule benefits, and without a retirement plan. If these jobs were paying living wages and had some sense of security, people would be lined up around the block for the positions."

For Further Reading:
Skills Shortage Sham

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