Party operatives will no doubt try to spin the monthly jobs report when it comes out on Friday, but whether the unemployment rate nudges up or down, there’s one point on which there will be nearly universal agreement: It’s still too high.
The jobless rate hasn’t fallen below 8 percent—twice what some economists say is acceptable—since January 2009, when President Obama took office. It’s a reflection of a job market that labor experts on Wednesday characterized as being defined by mismatches.
“You can’t be a farmer living in New York City, so we have to line up what you’d like to do with where the job opportunities are,” Jane Oates, assistant secretary of the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration, said after delivering keynote remarks at a National Journal labor policy summit.
Whether it’s where the jobs are, perceptions of what they entail, or the skills required, the labor market is characterized by unevenness, Oates and a panel of experts said during the event. For example, the recession hit one part of the labor force, while the recovery is helping another.
“What we’ve observed is that where the jobs have been lost, they’re not coming back. Where the jobs have been gained, they’re in different sectors,” said Nicole Smith, senior economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Many of the jobs lost in construction and related fields are showing up in the health care, education, and professional business-service sectors, she said. And, though the sector is small now, green jobs are “part of the way forward.” The science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields are all growing, too, but the pool of qualified applicants needs to grow with it.
There’s also an expectations mismatch. Veterans, for example, have trouble finding work not because they’re underqualified, but because they aren’t prepared to translate their skills or they have incorrect assumptions about the marketplace.
“We also have to train our servicemembers what it means to get out of the military and go into the civilian workforce,” said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “What we found through our studies is that veterans have too high of an expectation.”
Similarly, women and minorities are underrepresented in certain trade fields, Oates said. It's not that there isn't employer demand, but rather that employee perceptions have to change.
“We have all the players in place,” Oates said. “We need to get a better script.”