Looking Past the Headlines


The state of the U.S. jobs market has always been watched closely by economists and financial professionals, and the current economic recovery has only served to draw closer scrutiny to the employment situation.  Although the headline unemployment number has gradually dropped to a more palatable 6% from its peak of 10% in 2009, there remains a great deal of anecdotal evidence that many potential workers continue to struggle to find opportunities, leading observers to dig deeper into the labor market to find out what’s really taking place in the U.S. economy today.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has called attention to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) to provide greater context to the employment situation.  The JOLTS survey collects information that is intended to provide an economic indicator of the unmet demand for labor – in other words, to look not only at the people that are looking for jobs, but at the employers that are looking for people.

The most recent JOLTS report from June indicated that there are nearly 4.7 million jobs that employers are unable to fill.  While it is difficult to draw long-term trends from this information because this survey has only been around since 2000, this is the highest number of open jobs since before the recession, and is particularly interesting when considered in light of unemployment reports that indicate that 9.7 million people are looking for work.   Many are calling this disconnect the “skills gap” – a mismatch between the skills that employers are looking for compared to the skills of available workers.

Opinions differ as to how to solve the skills gap problem, and it is likely that any solution will take some time for its effects to be felt.  For now, the fact that there is robust and growing job demand from employers is a positive sign for the U.S. economy.