Much Work Remains to Shore Up the U.S. Labor Force

By Joseph Coombs Sep 2, 2016
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Two recent reports make a strong case for the need to create more training opportunities for the unemployed and perhaps even for lower-skilled workers who are already in the labor force.

High- and low-wage jobs will experience the most growth in the next five years, according to a study by CareerBuilder and its subsidiary, economic analysis firm EMSI. That may be great news for college-educated individuals and those with lower skill sets, but it leaves fewer opportunities for middle-wage jobs.

CareerBuilder and EMSI determined that 61 percent of the 173 occupations expected to lose jobs between 2016 and 2021 are in the middle-wage category—positions that earn between $13.84 and $21.13 per hour.

"The U.S. is facing a sustained trend of declining middle-wage employment that has serious implications not only for workers, but for the economy overall," said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder. "If we can't find a way to re-skill and up-skill workers, middle-wage workers will become increasingly susceptible to unemployment or will have to move into lower-paying roles that may not support them and their families."

Among the middle-wage occupations with the largest forecasted declines from 2016 to 2021 are:

  • Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers (-36,147 jobs).
  • Bookkeeping, auditing and accounting clerks (-27,881).
  • Printing press operators (-15,228).

In another report, the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI) argues that the nation's low unemployment rate (4.9 percent in July 2016) masks the fact that there are still millions of "missing workers," who are defined by EPI as those who "because of weak job opportunities, are neither employed nor actively seeking a job."

In early August, there were more than 2.3 million missing workers in the United States, EPI said. If those workers were tallied in federal unemployment surveys—which only count jobless individuals who are actively seeking work—the unemployment rate for July would actually be 6.2 percent, EPI said. The think tank, which derived the numbers from an analysis of Current Population Survey data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), plans to update the missing workers metric each month after the BLS employment report is released.

Research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has also shown that, despite continued employment growth for the past several years, HR professionals are still struggling to land skilled applicants for their openings. Nearly 3 in 10 manufacturing respondents (28.9 percent) had increased difficulty with recruiting in August 2016, according to the most recent SHRM Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) report. The problem was worse in the service sector, where a net of 39.3 percent of HR professionals reported increased recruiting difficulty.

These conditions have created a greater urgency for job training in communities across the country, and some efforts have begun to get off the ground. In Baltimore, for example, the State of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through a partnership announced Aug. 15, will provide food stamp recipients in the city with training in construction, health care, manufacturing and other industries in the coming months. The program will be offered on a statewide basis in Maryland in early 2017, and nonprofits and community colleges are among the participants that will administer the training to eligible residents.

Employers have apparently acknowledged the need for ramping up workers' skills, as well. More than 4 in 5 (82 percent) offered offsite professional development opportunities to their workers in 2016, according to SHRM's 2016 Employee Benefits research report. More than 2 in 5 (42 percent) also provided cross-training for workers to develop skills not directly related to their jobs.

Joseph Coombs is a senior analyst for workforce trends at SHRM.

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