A few months ago, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Marlene Seltzer, the chief executive of Jobs for the Future, published an article in Politico titled "Closing the Skills Gap." They began portentously: "Today, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. Yet, at the same time, 4 million jobs sit unfilled" — supposedly demonstrating "the gulf between the skills job seekers currently have and the skills employers need."
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. Meanwhile, multiple careful studies have found no support for claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment.
But the belief that America suffers from a severe "skills gap" is one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it's true. It's a prime example of a zombie idea — an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.
And it does a lot of harm. Before we get there, however, what do we actually know about skills and jobs?
Think about what we would expect to find if there really were a skills shortage. Above all, we should see workers with the right skills doing well, while only those without those skills are doing badly. We don't.
Yes, workers with a lot of formal education have lower unemployment than those with less, but that's always true, in good times and bad. The crucial point is that unemployment remains much higher among workers at all education levels than it was before the financial crisis. The same is true across occupations: workers in every major category are doing worse than they were in 2007.
Some employers do complain that they're finding it hard to find workers with the skills they need. But show us the money: If employers are really crying out for certain skills, they should be willing to offer higher wages to attract workers with those skills. In reality, however, it's very hard to find groups of workers getting big wage increases, and the cases you can find don't fit the conventional wisdom at all. It's good, for example, that workers who know how to operate a sewing machine are seeing significant raises in wages, but I very much doubt that these are the skills people who make a lot of noise about the alleged gap have in mind.
And it's not just the evidence on unemployment and wages that refutes the skills-gap story. Careful surveys of employers — like those recently conducted by researchers at both MIT and the Boston Consulting Group — similarly find, as the consulting group declared, that "worries of a skills gap crisis are overblown."
The one piece of evidence you might cite in favor of the skills-gap story is the sharp rise in long-term unemployment, which could be evidence that many workers don't have what employers want. But it isn't. At this point, we know a lot about the long-term unemployed, and they're pretty much indistinguishable in skills from laid-off workers who quickly find new jobs. So what's their problem? It's the very fact of being out of work, which makes employers unwilling even to look at their qualifications.
So how does the myth of a skills shortage not only persist, but remain part of what "everyone knows"? Well, there was a nice illustration of the process last fall, when some news media reported that 92 percent of top executives said there was, indeed, a skills gap. The basis for this claim? A telephone survey in which executives were asked, "Which of the following do you feel best describes the 'gap' in the U.S. workforce skills gap?" followed by a list of alternatives. Given the loaded question, it's actually amazing that 8 percent of the respondents were willing to declare that there was no gap.
Swim lessons by provider
Sonoma County Regional Parks: The final session of Vamos a Nadar will take place at Cloverdale Pool on July 18 and still has 20 available slots for children ages 5 and up. Sign up by calling 565-8034. A junior lifeguard program offers children an introduction to first aid and water rescue. The next available camp is Aug. 3-7. Registration is online at parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov.
Sonoma County YMCA: Swim lessons offered year-round in Santa Rosa as well and seasonally at Cloverdale Pool. See specific dates at www.scfymca.org/programs/swim_lessons.shtml.
Santa Rosa: Finley Aquatic and Ridgway Swim Center offer swim lessons to a range of ages and abilities on an ongoing basis. Check the website for availability or to register: srcity.org/departments/ recreationandparks/programs/aquatics/pages/default.aspx.
Petaluma: The Petaluma Swim Center and Cavanagh Pool are hosting lessons for a variety of ages between July and October through Swim America. Parents can register online at marinswimschool.com or at the pool.
Sebastopol: Ives Pool swim lessons are booked through July, but there is availability for the August session, which begins Aug. 3. Learn more at www.ivespool.org/lessons.html.
Healdsburg: Healdsburg Swim Center offers lessons through August. Register at the pool or learn more at www.ci.healdsburg.ca.us/254/Aquatics-Programs.
Windsor: The Windsor Swim Center is offering sessions throughout July and August. People can learn more or register by calling the Parks & Recreation Department at 838-1260.
Rohnert Park: Magnolia Pool and Honeybee pools are offering swim lessons through August. People can learn more online at rpcity.org or go in person to the Rohnert Park Community Center at 5401 Snyder Lane.