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With So Many Job Openings, Why So Little Hiring?

Author: Peter R. Orszag
August 15, 2013


An odd puzzle is taking shape in the labor market: Over the past three years, the number of job openings has risen almost 50 percent, but actual hiring has gone up by less than 5 percent. Companies are advertising a lot more jobs, in other words, but not filling them.

To get some sense of how significant this is, consider that if, since June 2010, hiring had risen a third as much as advertised jobs have (rather than only a 10th), and nothing else were different, job creation would be roughly 500,000 higher each month, and the unemployment rate would already be back to normal levels.

So what explains the yawning gap between jobs open and jobs filled?

One possibility is that there is a mismatch between the work that companies need done and the skills that workers have. As Peter Newland of Barclays Plc has said, "We believe that this divergence between openings and hiring is consistent with our view that some of the loss of employment during the recession was structural, rather than purely cyclical, in nature."

Such a structural mismatch may well explain part of the gap, yet it seems unlikely that it explains most of it. After all, job openings in the retail trade have doubled over the past three years, while hiring has been flat. Is it plausible that we lack qualified workers for these jobs?

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