Arianna Huffington, for instance, is getting on board with what appears to be a well-intentioned version of this storyline:
More than 20 million Americans are currently unemployed or underemployed, yet 3.4 million available jobs remain unfilled because job seekers lack the necessary skills.This sentence should, for most readers, refute itself. There are more than 3 million jobs that not one of the more than 20 million unemployed or underemployed people can't fill because they, the unemployed people, aren't skilled enough? It's a common line, and if it's true, it points to a need for huge government investment in higher education and technical training. But the evidence suggests it's just not true that skills and training are the real issue here.
For one thing, we have the data showing that recruiting intensity—how hard businesses are actually trying to find people to fill the jobs they claim they want to fill—is very low, far below what it was before the recession.
If the economy were healthier, we would expect a larger number of voluntary quits, which would signal that workers are more confident about outside job opportunities. Voluntary quits are also on a general upward climb, having increased 20.7 percent since June 2009. But they too have a long way to go; they are still 26.8 percent below their 2007 average.Yet despite evidence piling on evidence that high unemployment is because of a lack of available jobs and that if allegedly available jobs go unfilled, it's only very rarely because of a lack of skilled workers, we still hear a lot about how the problem is that workers need more training.
Many of the people involved in the campaign to highlight "what we the people can do to accelerate job creation and fill job openings" that Arianna Huffington is promoting doubtless have good intentions. And the campaign as she describes it does focus some on job creation, mainly through small business. (That's a focus that may help some, but again fails to challenge the big businesses that are the real culprits in the jobs crisis.) But as long as the idea that there are millions of for-real job openings that American workers just aren't good enough to fill is as central a focus as the idea that America needs job creation, this effort will do more to scapegoat workers than to make a dent in unemployment.