Smart-asses -- honestly, I can't think of a better term -- are out there peddling the idea that the unemployed are unemployed because they're, well, unemployable. They just don't have the skills to... whatever.
Who's saying this? Well, conservative members of the Fed and Bill Clinton are doing so in spite of studies by smarter heads showing that they're wrong.
Paul Krugman sthat "Mr. Clinton talk to researchers at the Roosevelt Institute and the Economic Policy Institute, both of which have recently released important reports completely debunking claims of a surge in structural unemployment." He also hints that those who cling to this view are being intellectually lazy and/or purely dishonest.
... This is what always happens during periods of high unemployment — in part because pundits and analysts believe that declaring the problem deeply rooted, with no easy answers, makes them sound serious. ...
Neither lazy or dishonest, Krugman lays out a persuasive case that it's the politicians, not the labor force, who are feeding the unemployment problem.
... What should we be seeing if statements like those of Mr. Kocherlakota or Mr. Clinton were true? The answer is, there should be significant labor shortages somewhere in America — major industries that are trying to expand but are having trouble hiring, major classes of workers who find their skills in great demand, major parts of the country with low unemployment even as the rest of the nation suffers.
None of these things exist. Job openings have plunged in every major sector, while the number of workers forced into part-time employment in almost all industries has soared. Unemployment has surged in every major occupational category. Only three states, with a combined population not much larger than that of Brooklyn, have unemployment rates below 5 percent.
Oh, and where are these firms that “can’t find appropriate workers”? The National Federation of Independent Business has been surveying small businesses for many years, asking them to name their most important problem; the percentage citing problems with labor quality is now at an all-time low, reflecting the reality that these days even highly skilled workers are desperate for employment.
"We aren’t suffering from a shortage of needed skills," Krugman concludes, "we’re suffering from a lack of policy resolve. As I said, structural unemployment isn’t a real problem, it’s an excuse — a reason not to act on America’s problems at a time when action is desperately needed."
Certainly that's a conclusion that applies to just about every problem we're experiencing now: policy makers -- White House and Congress -- are operating within a dead zone and seem likely to stay there.
Brad DeLong comes up with a really smart response to Krugman's op-ed piece among a variety of responses noted at The Atlantic.
When jobs are open, it is because employers think that they could sell what new employees would make for a handsome price and profit. Therefore they will be eager to hire--and eager to pay what the market will bear in order to hire. If it is indeed the case that people do not have the skills for the jobs that are open, or if firms have jobs but cannot find appropriate workers, then we ought to see tight labor markets and rapidly rising wages in those occupation-region pairs where there are ample jobs. We don't.
DeLong is about three thousand miles from Washington. Perhaps Washington wouldn't be a dead zone if DeLong were there... (Mind you, I don't blame him.)