Job Seekers Outnumber Jobs by 2-to-1
In August, the total number of job openings was 4.8 million, up from a revised 4.6 million in July. In August, there were 9.6 million job seekers (unemployment data are from the Current Population Survey), meaning that there were 2.0 times as many job seekers as job openings. Put another way, job seekers so outnumbered job openings that about half of the unemployed were not going to find a job in August no matter what they did. In a labor market with strong job opportunities, there would be roughly as many job openings as job seekers.
The decline of the job seekers to job openings ratio to 2.0 continues the overall downward trend since the high of 6.8 to 1 in July 2009 (see Figure A). The ratio has steadily declined, falling by about 1.0 over the last year.
While this is clearly a move in the right direction, the 9.6 million unemployed workers understate how many job openings will be needed when a robust jobs recovery finally begins, due to the existence of 5.9 million would-be workers (in August) 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 we enter a robust jobs recovery, so job openings will be needed for them, too.
The job-seekers ratio, December 2000–August 2014
|Month||Unemployed job seekers per job opening|
Note: Shaded areas denote recessions.
Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey and Current Population Survey
Even further, a job opening when the labor market is weak often does not mean the same thing as a job opening when the labor market is strong. There is a wide range of “recruitment intensity” with which a company can deal with a job opening. For example, if a company is trying hard to fill an opening, it may increase the compensation package and/or scale back the required qualifications. Conversely, if it is not trying very hard, it may hike up the required qualifications and/or offer a meager compensation package. Perhaps unsurprisingly, research shows that recruitment intensity is cyclical; it tends to be stronger when the labor market is strong, and weaker when the labor market is weak. This means that when a job opening goes unfilled when the labor market is weak, as it is today, companies may very well be holding out for an overly qualified candidate at a cheap price.