Understanding Unemployment in America | DCR Workforce Blog

Understanding Unemployment in America

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

 The lament of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner seems to be the most appropriate description of the current job market in America. According to some accounts, if all the current job vacancies were to be filled, an additional 5 million Americans would find themselves employed, leaving just a 3.7 million to be categorized as unemployed. But, the reality is that, as the mariner found, there is a mismatch between availability and need.

What makes the hope of filling vacancies an unrealistic exercise, when hiring has picked up almost up to pre-recession levels and layoffs are down to a normal rate while job opening are growing? What kind of flaw in the system would lead to a high number of unemployed on the one hand and a number of job openings on the other?

Now is the time to seek a job. Isn’t it?

The job market is never a static place. Businesses wax and wane, people get jobs and lose them. Of late, a lot of criticism has been directed at the unemployment statistics being shared by the Government. Let us look at the table below to see the actual unemployment in the country. Unemployment reports focus on category U-3, as shown in the table below. But, as demonstrated in this table, many categories of unemployed and underemployed are not factored into the reported calculation. The huge gap between U-6 and U-3 is a cause for concern for anyone who looks at the labor market and its performance.

Understanding Unemployment in America

Let us look at some realities of the current job market.

  • People may be considered employed even if they were working 10 hours for a week at a job.
  • Underemployment has become a concern as college graduates are accepting positions which do not require a higher education.
  • Blue collar jobs are not plentiful and the much-touted manufacturing recovery has not really helped matters much.
  • Retail trade, mining, transportation and leisure industries offer the most blue-collar jobs. Often, they are unstable, minimum wage jobs.
  • Public sector jobs are stable and secure. They represent one of every six jobs in the country. They also pay well, but government hiring is yet to pick up to pre-recession levels.
  • The retirement of baby boomers is looming ahead, creating further talent crunches.
  • Labor force participation is declining among the 25-54 year-olds, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Force. This decline has nothing to do with the talent crunches on account of the retiring baby boomers.
  • The lack of a real upward pressure on wages also shows that the growth in the job market still carries a lot of slack.

The Way Ahead:

Americans have always prized a middle class existence and spared no efforts to attain it. The current labor market is making it almost impossible to sustain this economic model as the gap between high net worth individuals and the underemployed widens. Before action can be taken, we must sort out the root causes of the unemployment gap.

The first step is to truly understand the scope of the problem. The government must shift focus from their current notion of unemployment to a holistic assessment of the state of employment. When an individual who formerly worked in a position paying $60,000 per year is forced to accept a position at half that rate, the government considers that an even swap. You can bet that the worker doesn’t!

The United States is participating in a technology-driven, global economy. Many positions remain open due to the lack of candidates with required skills and experiences. While this is especially true for engineering, IT, and healthcare positions, it applies to all workers. There is an urgent need to improve the knowledge and skill levels of workers, ensuring that they are in line with the skills employers require or desire. This will require the combined efforts of the government and businesses to increase the availability of affordable education, internships and apprenticeships, and other means of closing the skills gap. We should look to the example set by the Kennedy administration in our efforts to lead the space race for indications of steps taken to focus on math and science skills in our educational system and to provide support for students pursuing careers in these fields.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.