Monday, August 18, 2014

Unemployment: The problem isn't lack of education but over-education

Concerns that there are problems with the supply of skills, especially education-related skills, in the US labor force have exploded in recent years with a series of reports from employer-associated organizations but also from independent and even government sources making similar claims.  These complaints about skills are driving much of the debate around labor force and education policy, yet they have not been examined carefully. 

This paper examines the range of these charges as well as other evidence about skills in the labor force.  There is very little evidence consistent with the complaints about skills and a wide range of evidence suggesting that they are not true.         

Indeed, a reasonable conclusion is that over-education remains the persistent and even growing situation of the US labor force with respect to skills.

A separate commentary makes the point in a different way:

If this is really a skills gap story then it seems that it is showing up most sharply in the retail and restaurant sectors.  Job openings in the retail sector are up by 14.6 percent from their 2007 level, but hires are down by 0.7 percent. Job opening in the leisure and hospitality sector are up by 17.0 percent, while hiring is down by 7.4 percent.
If the disparity between patterns in job openings and hires is really evidence that workers lack the skills for available jobs then perhaps we need to train more people to be clerks at convenience stores and to wait tables.

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