So the unemployment rate went up a little in May, from 7.5% to 7.6%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics deems this increase as “essentially unchanged.” Despite 175,000 more people working. How does this math work?
I’ve written about the how the unemployment rate in the U.S. is determined here and here. But here’s another slice of data to consider. It’s the number of job openings. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) published each month alongside the unemployment numbers, shares really interesting data each month. Along with the data about quits and hires, are data about job openings. Fascinating. Really.
So, although there were 3,757,000 job openings in April (down 118,000 from March, or “little changed” as the BLS describes it) the difference between hires and total separations was just 146,000 month over month. So on the surface, a net of 175,000 new jobs is curious.
More curious is matching the number of job openings to the number of unemployed people by industry. Economist Heidi Shierholz published a piece for the Economic Policy Institute last week that shows in stark relief that unemployed workers still significantly outnumber job openings in every major sector. Based on analysis of the JOLTS and other data, the following chart is a snapshot of current job openings numbers by industry and the numbers of unemployed workers in those industries. It’s rather eye popping and raises lots of questions.
Ouch! So think about this data when you read about employers not being able to find the right skills for their openings. Is it really skills they can’t find? Or something else? How hard are they looking? What BFOQs are they using that overlook millions of job seekers?
There are so many data points around employment, job openings, quits, hires, workers, unemployed workers, discouraged job seekers, skills, education levels, education spending… The data points come from bonafide sources (like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce), quasi bonafide sources with bias (like the Economic Policy Institute, SHRM, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AARP), vendor sponsored research and white papers, and millions of blogs and other media sources.
Lots of sources. Lots of data points. Lots of analysis. Lots of conflicting findings and conclusions.
The best we can do is be pro-active in finding sources that are transparent about their data and analysts who seem unbiased. And then be persistent in looking at all sides of an issue and smart in believing what you read.
On the issues of skills, jobs and unemployment, though, it seems that we don’t know what we’re doing. We may not even really know what the truth is. Except this: we’ve got to do better at matching job openings with available talent. It’s clear that we haven’t figured this out. Not government, not business/employers, not education providers, not workers, not vendors, not recruiters.
Forget the skills deficit. What about filling the open the jobs?