The Number of Unemployed Exceeds the Number of Available Jobs Across All Sectors

The figure below shows the number of unemployed workers and the number of job openings in September, by industry. This figure is useful for diagnosing what’s behind our sustained high unemployment. If today’s labor market woes were the result of skills shortages or mismatches, we would expect to see some sectors where there are more unemployed workers than job openings, and others where there are more job openings than unemployed workers. What we find, however, is that unemployed workers exceed jobs openings across the board.

Some sectors have been closing the gap faster than others. Health care and social assistance, which has been consistently adding jobs throughout the business cycle, has a ratio quickly approaching 1-to-1. On the other end of the spectrum, there are 6.5 unemployed construction workers for every job opening. Removing those two extremes, there are between 1.1 and 3.1 as many unemployed workers as job openings in every other industry. This demonstrates that the main problem in the labor market is a broad-based lack of demand for workers—not, as is often claimed, available workers lacking the skills needed for the sectors with job openings.


Unemployed and job openings, by industry (in millions)

Industry Unemployed Job openings
Professional and business services 1.1383 .8208
Health care and social assistance .7028 .6798
Retail trade 1.1662 .4729
Accommodation and food services .9651 .5539
Government .7158 .4257
Finance and insurance .2733 .2183
Durable goods manufacturing .5034 .1746
Other services .3998 .1443
Wholesale trade .1662 .1468
Transportation, warehousing, and utilities .3823 .1598
Information .1586 .1043
Construction .8076 .1250
Nondurable goods manufacturing .3262 .1081
Educational services .2265 .0758
Real estate and rental and leasing .1212 .0519
Arts, entertainment, and recreation .2258 .0738
Mining and logging .0558 .0274


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Note: Because the data are not seasonally adjusted, these are 12-month averages, September 2013–August 2014.

Source: EPI analysis of data from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey and the Current Population Survey

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  • Mitch Taylor

    Some historical context might be helpful here…how does this chart compare to the late 90s full employment…how does it compare to other post WWII recession aftermaths…how has this chart changed over the recovery from the Great Recession…is there a comparable Japanese JOLTS that shows unemployment vs job openings during their long running post 1990 crisis debacle?

  • Michael678

    I noticed many help wanted ads require 5 years traceable recent experience (exact wording, even for seasonal (UPS and FedEx) part time jobs). Translation: Unemployed need not apply.

  • Roger E. A. Farmer

    Elise. While I am sympathetic to your point of view, I do not think that there is sufficient information in this chart to substantiate it. The fact that unemployment exceeds vacancies in every industry does not say anything about deficient aggregate demand. It is simply an argument that different industries are currently operating at different points on the industry’s Beveridge curve.

    Let me play Devil’s advocate and argue for a position that I, in fact, deeply disagree with. Let us suppose that there is a unique ‘natural rate of unemployment’. Let us suppose, further, that the economy as a whole is currently operating at or close to capacity. Looking at your data, I would conclude that the technology of search operates differently in different industries and that the unemployment rate in each industry that you depict is currently equal to the socially appropriate level of frictional unemployment.