The Truth About the ‘Labor Shortage’

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There’s a debate going on about whether or not there is a labor shortage in the U.S. economy right now. Despite lots of “help wanted” signs, however, a new report from the Roosevelt Institute firmly says no.

If there’s no labor shortage, then where are the workers? On the sidelines, according to  J.W. Mason, economist and co-author. 

Maximum employment: What Mason is indicating is that the labor market has lots of room for growth— 28 million possible jobs, to be specific. 28 million is the number of people who “could plausibly be working in the U.S. by taking into account employment rates across race, gender, education, and age,” says the report, a number that would achieve maximum employment in the economy. This is different from more conventional unemployment measures. 

“Essentially, if you could get rid of the racial employment gap, get rid of the non-childcare gender gap, and just get the education and age gaps back to the levels they’ve been at in the relatively recent past, then that gets you 28 million additional workers,” according to Mason in an interview with Fortune.

Employment barriers: Barriers to employment come in all shapes and sizes, from systemic inequalities and discrimination to job preferences. Black Americans, women, and those with limited education, for example, face the biggest employment challenges. Still, factors like schedule flexibility, location, and background also play into getting hired. 

The moonshot: Adding 28 million jobs to reach maximum employment would be no easy feat. For one, it would require a 2.7% average annual growth in employment, which hasn’t actually happened since the 1970s. It would also literally require employers to change how and who they hire, perhaps by relaxing standards or beefing up recruitment.

Becoming a bit more worker-centric, however, while a shift from how things are currently done, could be a positive change not only for workers, but for the economy as a whole. 

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