Four-and-a-Half Years Since Recovery Began, No Jobs for More Than 60% of Job Seekers

Mar 11, 2014 by

By Heidi Shierholz | February 11, 2014
Economic Policy Institute

The December Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics mark six years since the official beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007 and four-and-a-half years since its official end in June 2009. Job openings declined by 43,000 in December, bringing the total number of job openings to 4.0 million. In December, the number of job seekers was 10.4 million (unemployment data are from the Current Population Survey and can be found here). Thus, there are 10.4 million job seekers and only 4.0 million job openings, meaning that there are only enough job openings for 38.5 percent of job seekers. This means that more than 60 percent of job seekers were not going to find a job in December no matter what they did. In a labor market with strong job opportunities, there would be roughly as many job openings as job seekers. We are clearly not in a strong labor market.

Furthermore, the 10.4 million unemployed workers understates how many job openings will be needed when a robust jobs recovery finally begins, due to the existence of 5.7 million would-be workers who are currently not in the labor market, but who would be if job opportunities were strong. Many of these “missing workers” will become job seekers when a robust jobs recovery begins, so job openings will be needed for them, too.

Rate of hiring has seen no improvement in nearly two years

One of the best ways to judge the relative strength of job opportunities over time is to examine the hires rate—the share of total employment accounted for by new hires. This is an important comprehensive measure of the strength of job opportunities because it incorporates two components: 1) net new hires, and 2) new hires that are due to churn (discussed below). Figure A shows the hires rate each month over time. It fell dramatically in the Great Recession, saw some very modest improvement between the middle of 2009 and early 2012, but has made no sustained improvement since February 2012, nearly two years ago.

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