Skilled job seekers still waiting for opportunities
By John Clay 25 March 2012
|ST. PAUL - Jim has been looking for full-time work for one and a half years. With a JD degree from a prestigious college, a license to practice law in Minnesota and a solid 13 years at his last job until the company downsized, he never imagined finding work could be so hard.
|"The most disappointing thing is the ‘ghost jobs’ which are posted but are really not available", said Jim, who lives in Woodbury. "You get the sense that someone has already been selected, and the posting is to satisfy legal requirements."
Jim is not alone. Minnesota employers are not creating as many jobs as our colleges and universities are creating educated job seekers. Job seekers in Minnesota with post-secondary education (beyond high school) currently outnumber job openings requiring post-secondary education by 4 to 1, according to the JOBS NOW Coalition based in St. Paul.
Some workforce experts have suggested that the ongoing unemployment crisis is structural — that workers don't have the skills that employers need and that employers will create more jobs when well-educated workers appear on the scene.
"The emphasis of the recovery will be largely on skilled jobs," says a national report called "Help Wanted", issued June 2010 by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. "We are facing an undersupply of workers with post-secondary education."
But the census and labor market data tell another story. Lower-wage jobs, which typically are lower-skill jobs, are on the rise. A February 2011 job report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) used data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to track recent job growth nationwide according to higher- and lower-wage industries.
"Because the BLS shows a direct correlation between education and wages, the NELP report is a good gauge of education levels in job growth", explained John Clay, policy director at JOBS NOW Coalition.
NELP finds that lower-wage industries constituted 23 percent of job loss during the recession, but fully 49 percent of job growth so far during the recovery. Higher-wage industries, on the other hand, constituted 40 percent of job loss, but only 14 percent of job growth so far during the recovery.
"This recovery is generating fewer job openings in every sector and for every education group than the last recovery," says economist Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
Those are national numbers. Here in Minnesota, census and labor market data show that employers are not producing enough higher-skill jobs to keep up with the state's educated job seekers.
Of the 161,000 job seekers in Minnesota, the most recent US Census shows that 91,000 have post-secondary education. But the total number of job openings statewide at all skill levels is just 50,000, according to Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development figures for the fourth quarter of 2011. Of those openings, only 21,000 require post-secondary education. This means Minnesota's employers are creating one skilled job opening for every four educated job seekers.
Could it be that workers in Minnesota and across the US are educated in the wrong fields, thus creating structural unemployment even among the educated workforce? "We don't see evidence of the other factors that would be consistent with growing structural unemployment", writes economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
During structural unemployment, wages and average hours per worker rise rapidly wherever the labor supply is short, as employers struggle to attract workers and fill gaps. But that's not happening. "There is no major sector of the economy that fits this description", Baker confirmed in a recent interview.
In fact, here in Minnesota the median wage for all openings has wavered between $11 and $10 an hour since 2005 and as of the fourth quarter of 2011 stood at $10.89 an hour, indicating no overall increase in demand for skill.
And although DEED shows the total number of job openings in Minnesota has increased, the share of openings that require post-secondary education has slipped from 45 percent of openings in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 43 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.
With so few openings for educated workers, Jim has had to broaden his job search and lower his economic expectations.
"Everyone is downsizing, and cutting government doesn't help. When private industry shrinks, then government becomes the employer of last resort. Cut government, and there is nowhere to go", he said.
"Minnesota's schools and colleges have done their part. We have educated workers who have a lot to offer", says Kris Jacobs, executive director of JOBS NOW Coalition. "We can put our educated workforce to work by raising state revenue to staff skilled public services and to implement a statewide wage subsidy to give small businesses the capital they need to hire in today's risky economy."
John Clay is policy director at the JOBS NOW Coalition.