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The Skills Gap Might Be a ‘Zombie Idea’


The popular theory is that there’s a “skills gap,” a wide gulf between those looking for a job and the necessary know-how and certification that employers require. This trope has become a fixture in most media coverage of the economy and the plight of the long-term unemployed. Today, in a New York Times op ed, Paul Krugman explains why it just might be nonsense.


(Photo Credit: Lindsey Turner/Flickr)

“Actually, in an ever-changing economy there are always some positions unfilled even while some workers are unemployed, and the current ratio of vacancies to unemployed workers is far below normal,” writes Krugman. “Meanwhile, multiple careful studies have found no support for claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment.”

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The belief that the unemployed can’t find jobs because they’re not skilled enough to do the jobs that are available is a “zombie idea,” Krugman says — “an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.”

If there isn’t a skills gap, why do we persist in believing it?

“One reason may be psychological — it’s easier to blame workers for lack of skills rather than face the fact that millions cannot find work no matter what they do because the jobs simply are not there,” writes Heidi Shierholz at Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank.

In fact, Krugman points out, workers in every occupation and at every education level are worse off than they were before the Recession — something that wouldn’t be true if the solution were as simple as picking up a few skills or a certification.

Last month’s jobs report from the labor department showed better-than-expected gains of 175,000 jobs, but those numbers were still lower than the average gains of 203,000 jobs per month for 2013 — plus, the PayScale Real Wage Index shows a 7.2 percent drop in real earnings for American workers since 2006.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you believe that a lack of skills is the reason so many Americans are out of work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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