Underutilized Workers Outnumber Job Openings 7 to 1

Greg Hannsgen | November 11, 2011

(Click to enlarge.)

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data released this month show an increase in the number of job openings available throughout the United States, as reported by Catherine Rampell in the New York Times “Economix” blog. As of the end of September, there were 3.8 unemployed people per job opening, based on raw data. (Rampell reports a slightly higher ratio, based on seasonally adjusted figures.) These ratios use the official definition of unemployment, leading to a rather low count of the number of workers individually affected by the bad labor market. In the figure above, I compare the number of job openings with the number of unemployed people, using separate bars for each gender. In addition, I include bars representing two more groups that are covered by the BLS’s broad “U6 measure of labor underutilization” but not by the official unemployment rate: 1) those working only part-time for economic reasons; and 2) people who are “marginally attached to the workforce.” The latter group includes discouraged workers and many others who would almost certainly be working if the job market were sufficiently robust.* The green bar on the right shows the total number of people in all of these categories of underutilized workers—about 23.9 million, or 7.0 underutilized workers per job opening.


*Note: Click link below for definitions of these two groups

* According to the BLS website (link here): “Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.”


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