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The False Theory of the Growing U.S. Jobs Mismatch

Job seekers line-up to give their resumes to an employment agency representivie at a job fair at a Holiday Inn in New York City.
Job seekers line-up to give their resumes to an employment agency representivie at a job fair at a Holiday Inn in New York City.Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A primary refrain of the jobless recovery is that a growing skills mismatch is largely to blame, that many of the unemployed simply aren’t qualified to fill the jobs that are out there—like trying to squeeze square workers into round openings. It’s an argument both sides of the political spectrum make. The Right uses it as an excuse to oppose more fiscal stimulus aimed at job creation, while the Left uses it to propose further funding to goose demand and retrain the unemployed.

The latest data show there were 3.5 million jobs openings at the end of February—about 800,000 less than in December 2007, the month the U.S. technically went into recession. As of March, there were 12 million unemployed people. It’s clear that we now have more of a buyer’s market than in years past and that there is something of a mismatch going on. But that’s always been the case, even when unemployment was low. The question is: Has it gotten worse?