Jul 10, 2012

Debating the Skills Gap

There is a lot of debate these days about unemployment. The Great Recession has altered the lives and expectations of Americans in a fundamental way. The relationship between workers and firms has frayed and there is currently no national consensus on how to address unemployment. 

For Blacks, the problem of high and long-term unemployment is a structural reality. May jobs data suggest that the African-Americans unemployment rate  has risen (14.4%) and is roughly twice that of the White unemployment rate (7.4%). This has been the case since 1972. The unemployment rate for African-Americans across all educational backgrounds has also been higher than Whites. African-Americans with a college degree have an unemployment rate of 6.9% compared to 3.9% for college educated Whites, according to a 2011 Report by the Center for American Progress. It is important to note that education remains an important protective factor against unemployment as both Black and White rates of unemployment among persons with a college degree are substantially lower than the overall rate for each.

For a persons looking for work, or programs working to help job seekers find work, the job market is pretty murky. The average time a person spends unemployed after a job loss has risen to 27 weeks. However, this is occurring as many employers seeking high skilled employees indicate that they are having a hard time filling positions. A recent NY Times Room for Debate segment asks the questions: Does the skills gap contribute to unemployment?  While clearly job seekers have real skin in the game, Debator Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School suggest that employers also share some responsibility. He writes:  "In the midst of the greatest surplus of talent in modern times, many employers nevertheless say that they cannot find people to hire. For every anecdote about employers who cannot find good candidates, though, there are a dozen stories of highly qualified candidates struggling even to be seen by employers."

Debator, Elaine Shao, Former Secretary of labor, suggest that policy makers focus on improving job training programs and that businesses "focus on long-term strategies for growth that include investing in their own skills training efforts."  As our national political leaders struggle to reach a consensus on how to address the broader economic challenges we face, local communities can and should begin to act. The New York City Young Male Initiative is an example of a local effort to formulate polices and programs that address the needs of hard young males in New York City.

Meaningful work is central to the stability and long term viability of our nation. Both the government and private sector must work together to put Americans to work.