Clinton on Structural Unemployment

I saw Bill Clinton on Letterman explaining that for the “first time new job postings are opening up twice as fast as job hires….because of skills mismatch….[unemployment would drop] 9.6 to 6.9” last Monday, the night the Labor Market paper came out. It’s 2 minutes and 40 seconds into the clip.

Yup, he said 6.9%, and he’s continuing the line. Atrios rages when he heard similar on NPR.

To clarify, here’s EPI with Bill Clinton Gets it Wrong:

The fact that private employers hired 63% more people than the number of openings they had indicates that they have not had trouble finding workers with adequate skills. In fact, the ratio of hires to job openings has been higher during the current recovery than at any time during the prior recovery of the early 2000s. It is not the skills of the workforce that limit our ability to reduce unemployment, but the limited number of job openings due to a shortfall in consumer and business demand for goods and services.

How can there be more new hires than new job openings? The openings are measured at the end of each month while the number of new hires reflects hires made throughout the month. This means that many jobs open and are filled within the same month and are not included in the count of new job openings. Still, these data show that there is not a backlog of job openings that are going unfilled.

For a more detailed explanation of why the current unemployment crisis is not a structural problem, see our recent paper, Reasons for Skepticism about Structural Unemployment.

I’m all for getting better education outcomes but the idea that unemployment would be 6.9% with better skills (or if we demolished the minimum wage if you are a right-winger) is not at all accurate to the current situation. I understand the desire to use the unemployment situation to advance projects both good and bad but to assume it’s mostly a supply-side instead of demand-side phenomenon is simply incorrect.

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1 Response to Clinton on Structural Unemployment

  1. ace says:

    Please pardon me for getting this all wrong, but the idea as I heard it (Clinton’s ~10 minute chat on ‘The Daily Show’) is that it is, in fact, a question of demand. Obviously there is not enough demand to pick up applicants who do not exactly meet or slightly exceed expectations, companies wish to maximize on hiring investments.

    It seemed to me Clinton was suggesting that if companies had the resources/support/incentive/(ok, tax cuts, just to be ‘balanced’) to hire and then _train_ people who were a good cultural fit for the company(but otherwise mismatched in skills), then less than ideal applicants would more likely be hired, trained, and on their way to productivity. In other words, the demand is too demanding, in its present natural state.

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