There Are Nearly Six Unemployed Construction Workers for Every Construction Job Opening

One of the recurring myths following the Great Recession has been that recovery in the labor market has lagged because workers don’t have the right skills. The figure below, which shows the number of unemployed workers and the number of job openings in January by industry, is a useful way to examine this idea. If today’s labor market woes were the result of skills shortages or mismatches, we would expect to see some sectors where there are more unemployed workers than job openings, and others where there are more job openings than unemployed workers. What we find, however, is that there are more unemployed workers than jobs openings in almost every industry.

The notable exception is health care and social assistance, which has been consistently adding jobs throughout the business cycle, and there are signs that workers in that industry are facing a tighter labor market. However, we have yet to see any sign of decent wage gains yet, which would be the final indicator that the labor market, at least for those workers, was approaching reasonable health.

Other sectors have seen little-to-no improvement in their job-seekers-to-job-openings ratios. There are, for example, still nearly six unemployed construction workers for every job opening. In other words, despite claims from some employers, there is no shortage of construction workers.

Taken as a whole, these numbers demonstrate that the main problem in the labor market is a broad-based lack of demand for workers—not available workers lacking the skills needed for the sectors with job openings.


Unemployed and job openings, by industry (in millions)

Industry Unemployed Job openings
Professional and business services 1.0633 0.8969
Health care and social assistance 0.7018 0.7433
Retail trade 1.0759 0.4987
Accommodation and food services 0.9598 0.6060
Government 0.6680 0.4466
Finance and insurance 0.2514 0.2338
Durable goods manufacturing 0.4524 0.1817
Other services 0.3630 0.1516
Wholesale trade 0.1602 0.1562
Transportation, warehousing, and utilities 0.3498 0.1688
Information 0.1478 0.1039
Construction 0.7426 0.1274
Nondurable goods manufacturing 0.2974 0.1137
Educational services 0.2327 0.0812
Real estate and rental and leasing 0.1148 0.0638
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 0.2106 0.0684
Mining and logging 0.0518 0.0273


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Note: Because the data are not seasonally adjusted, these are 12-month averages, February 2014–January 2015.

Source: EPI analysis of data from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey and the Current Population Survey

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