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While the rest of the nation celebrated Mardi Gras on Feb. 12, official Washington was transfixed by a different spectacle: delivery of President Barack Obama’s yearly State of the Union speech. Newly elected Congressman Dave Joyce watched the hour-long oration on the House of Representatives floor with his House and Senate colleagues and was up the next morning to discuss it with radio talk show host and Plain Dealer columnist Mike McIntyre on WCPN’s "The Sound of Ideas" call-in program.
The Russell Township Republican told McIntyre he heard plenty of familiar themes in Obama’s speech, and said many of the president’s solutions to problems "seemed to involve more big government." But Joyce said he was intrigued by Obama’s call for providing high school students with a more technical education that will help them get better jobs after graduation. During the speech, Obama highlighted a school in Brooklyn, N.Y. that graduates students with both a high school diploma and an associates degree in computers or engineering.
"We need to better prepare our workforce for the jobs that we have," Joyce said. "There are three million jobs that go vacant each month in this country, so the idea of trying to better prepare our children for the workforce by reforming high schools and stressing technical degrees in engineering, that is something that intrigues me. It’s something that people in other districts hear from their people, who said we have difficulty finding competent workers."
PolitiFact was intrigued by Joyce’s assertion that three million U.S. jobs go unfilled every month. Could that be true that a nation with a 7.9 percent unemployment in January, 2013 actually has so many job openings?
Joyce’s press secretary referred us to monthly job openings reports produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A Feb. 12 report that covered statistics from December 2012 said there were 3.6 million job openings on the last day of the year, a number that varied little throughout 2012. The report said that during 2012, hires totaled 51.8 million and separations totaled 50.0 million, yielding a net employment gain of 1.8 million.
Reports the office issued for previous months in 2012 indicated there were 3.8 million job openings in June, 3.7 million job openings in November, October , July, May and March, 3.6 million openings in September and August, 3.5 million vacancies in January and February, and 3.4 million unfilled jobs in April,
So why are there so many unfilled jobs? Employers maintain there’s a skills gap, while some labor economists say that skilled workers desire more pay than employers want to provide.
A Bloomberg.com article on the subject said U.S. companies have reported more than 3 million job openings every month since February 2011. The article quoted Anthony Carnevale, who heads the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington, D.C., saying there’s a demand for workers with highly specific skills. The article described a growing skills gap as a global problem, quoting a McKinsey Global Institute study that said employers worldwide could face a shortage of 85 million high- and medium-skilled workers by 2020. It also highlighted a Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center program that helps unskilled workers train for better paid, skilled jobs in fields such as nursing.
"‘Qualified’ used to mean a high school degree," Carnevale told Bloomberg. "Now the qualification level has gone up so they’re pressing for better people."
A Nov. 11 segment on CBS News’ "60 Minutes" said that manufacturers nationwide say the lack of skilled workers is the reason for hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs. But it quoted management professor Peter Capelli of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business saying that if companies paid better, they might be able to get the higher skilled workers they say they need.
"This is a market. And so, you know, if you're not willing to pay more, don't expect to get better quality people," Capelli said. "One of the things we know now is wages are not going up. In fact, they've been stagnant and some cases even declining over time. So where is the shortage?"
Capelli also noted that a generation ago, companies provided workers with the training they needed.
"Companies are now saying, for all kinds of reasons, "We're not going to do it anymore," Capelli told "60 Minutes." "And maybe they're right, they can't do it. But what they probably can't do is say, ‘We're not going to do it, and it's your problem. It's your problem to provide us with what we need, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. You need to pay for this for us."
Alcoa Inc. CEO Klaus Kleinfeld provided a counterpoint to Capelli’s views. Kleinfeld said he believes manufacturing jobs pay "very, very well," and that Alcoa is making efforts to fill the skills gap as are many other businesses. Asked why there’s still a skills gap if manufacturing is attempting to close it, Kleinfield replied: "This is not a society where you can tell somebody what - where to go, or where to - what education to get, right?’
Joyce’s claim that 3 million jobs go vacant each month is accurate. We rate his statement True.
WCPN’s "The Sound of Ideas," The State of the Union, Feb. 13, 2013
President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address,Feb. 12, 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, accessed Feb. 15, 2013
Emails with Dave Joyce’s press secretary, Christyn Keyes, Feb. 13, 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release, Feb. 12, 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release, Jan 10, 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release, Dec. 11, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release, Nov. 6, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release,Oct. 10. 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release, Sept. 11, 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release,Aug.7, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release,June 19, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release, April 10, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release,March 13, 2012
Yahoo Finance, What do 3 million job openings tell us about the skills gap?Dec. 5, 2012
Bloomberg, Companies say 3 million unfilled positions in skill crisis: jobs, July 25, 2012
CBS News’ "60 Minutes," Three million open jobs in U.S., but who’s qualified,Nov. 11, 2012
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