Job Openings Jump in September, Number Still Low

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The Labor Department reported that there were 3.4 million open jobs nationwide in September. Most analysis of the number said that this was great progress over the 3.1 million level in August. The optimism fails to acknowledge that the number of job openings was 4.4 million in December 2007, before the recession began. Most comments about the number also fail to mention that the American workforce has become less mobile and less well-trained than its was three years ago.

A job opening does not necessarily mean that job will be filled soon. Some employers post jobs even though they will only hire people with sterling backgrounds and training. Other companies expect applicants to work for much less than they would have three years ago, even though the skills required are still the same. A rise in productivity allows some firms to let jobs remain open for months.

Experts believe that many Americans unemployed for long periods lose some of their skills. These people will not find work, even if, in some cases, the work is only a mile away. Many people who want to find jobs cannot afford to relocate. Not everyone can pay to move from the high unemployment regions in central California to parts of Texas or Alaska were there may be more opportunity.

Jobs available now often have different characteristics than the jobs open in 2006 and 2007. Employers needed to find workers quickly then. Their businesses were expanding with the economy. Those days are over, at least for the foreseeable future.

Douglas A. McIntyre