There Is No “Skills Gap”!

Dean BakerOh! My! God! What are we going to do about the skills gap?! For those of you who are not aware, the skills gap is the reason there is high unemployment. It has nothing to do with a lack of demand in the economy. The problem is that there are all these jobs out there for JavaScript programmers and there are just too few JavaScript programmers. Or circuit board designers. Or pediatric oncologists. I don’t know. Whatever the skills are, we the people just don’t have em!

The laws of economics indicate that if there was big money to be made, then people would hit the books and become expert in JavaScript. The skills gap would disappear because people are pretty reasonable and will not keep starving as TV repair men when they can make BIG MONEY as JavaScript programmers. (Or circuit board designers or pediatric oncologists.) But wait, I just got some breaking information.

It turns out those companies that want to hire loads of JavaScript programmers only want to pay $7.25 per hour. In fact, these companies that are so desperate to hire JavaScript programmers left California (where there are lots of JavaScript programmers — many as young as eight years old) because the minimum wage is $9.00 per hour. They moved to Alabama where they could pay them the lower federal minimum wage. So these companies are desperate to hire JavaScript programmers, but only at $7.25 per hour.

If I were of a cynical turn of mind, I would think that these companies claiming that there was a skills gap were actually, I don’t know, disingenuous. I would think that they are mostly conservative ideologues who want to complain about poor people and blame the bad economy on them. Because here’s the thing. I’m very poor. But I have lots of work for people to do. I could easily use two researchers, a secretary, and someone to handle my Twitter account (it really is very boring). So if I could pay these people just 50¢ per hour, I’d create these four jobs. I like the sound of that, Frank Moraes: Job Creator!

But what I won’t do is run around saying, “I have good jobs for people, I just can’t find anyone!” There are plenty of excellent researchers around, but there are none who will work for 50¢ per hour. But the “job skills” crowd never admits the truth: they can’t find qualified people to work for the lousy pay they are offering. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a guy on 60 Minutes who was complaining he couldn’t find workers who knew trigonometry. He was offering $12 per hour. And the sad thing is that these people are pretty much never called on their nonsense in the mainstream media.

This morning Dean Baker brought my attention to a shocking new skills gap, It’s Hard to Find People With the Necessary Skills for Retail and Restaurant Work. It seems that new research shows that there has been a rise in the number of job openings but a fall in the number of hires. Here are the details:

The gap in retail between openings and hires increased by 123,000 last month, as hiring fell by 83,000, in spite of a 40,000 increase in job openings. Job openings in accommodation and food services increased by 73,000 while hiring fell by 5,000, adding 78,000 to the gap.

Is there really a skills gap in wait staff and motel night managers? Probably not. It is probably an indication that slightly better jobs are becoming available. But that won’t stop conservatives and even your local news from telling you that people are just too stupid and unqualified to take all the cool JavaScript programming jobs that are available. No mention will be made of the fact that most of the new jobs are bottom wrung, low paying jobs that aren’t generally considered “skilled.” (Although no one would ever want to hire me to wait tables.)

I’ll probably be writing more about this later, but I think I know what’s going on. An economy is like an ecosystem. And in this economy system, the rich have become far too successful. They are gobbling up too many of the resources, and this is causing the resources to dry up. What we need is balance. In ecosystems, highly successful species often go extinct because they consume all their resources. The problem is the shortsighted success of the species, not the fact that other species don’t have the necessarily skills to eke out a living.

There is no skills gap. People said there was during the Great Depression. There was not. They say it now. There is not. They say it as a way to justify bad economic policy. They say it as a way to justify the status quo. They say it because they don’t want to admit that the economy needs balance. It isn’t possible for the rich to have it all.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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