The number of job openings in the U.S. rose to 6 million according to an April 2017 report the Department of Labor released today. The United States is operating at full employment as the unemployment rate stands at 4.3%. This rate leaves the number of Americans searching for work around 6.9 million according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For years, economic reporters and employers have contributed the discrepancy between available jobs and the unemployment rate, in part, to the “skills gap,” but the latest “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary” from the Department of Labor suggests that conclusion may be incorrect. Of the 259,000 jobs added to the national total, the greatest increase occurred in the food service industry and accommodation subsector, which together provided 118,000 jobs. Portions of the food service industry and the accommodation subsector support numerous low-skill or entry-level positions, raising questions about how the skills gap interacts with current unemployment and job availability statistics.
The same report by the Labor Department states that jobs increased in both the Northeast and the Midwest. This is evidenced by the shifting focus from job creation to workforce development in states within those areas. During his 2017 State of the State Address, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin remarked, “Our biggest challenge is not creating jobs, but finding people to fill them. We went from a focus on ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ to talking about ‘workforce, workforce, workforce.’ This is my top priority for 2017 – and beyond.”
The success or failure of a growing emphasis on workforce development may be manifested by future Labor Department economic news releases and state employment trends.