At the end of the week, the AP ran this story about the current job market. In it, they propose that there are five mysteries about the job market that are just waiting to be solved.
* The percentage of adults working or seeking work has dropped from 66% to 62.8% (a thirty-five year low). That's 7.5 million not-workers. Half of those are retired boomers and some more are students. Question #1-- how many would start looking again if the economic suckage continued to suck slightly less?
* 3.8 million people used to be on the unemployment list. Now they aren't. Did they get jobs, or did they give up? Short answer-- nobody really knows. Long researchy answer (YMMV) is about 40% got jobs and 32% gave up.
* 7.3 million people want full-time jobs but have to settle for part-time work. What does that mean? Some economists think it's the new (crappy) normal (and certain bloggers are sadly inclined to agree with them), while others think that wages may go up. You make your own call about which group are on a unicorn hunt.
* Companies are advertising lots of jobs but not filling them. Maybe they're choosier. Maybe they need welders but everyone's off at college. A fun theory is that it's so easy to advertise a job electronically that employers just post everything, whether they're really ready to hire or not. None of the commenters suggest that the right people just aren't out there. Employers just don't seem to feel any urgency to fill the openings they claim they have.
* Job growth has fallen for women, who only got 40% of the jobs since this recovery-like period started in 2009. That's a sharp drop from previous recoveries, and it includes men glomming up a bunch of usually-female jobs like hotelly stuff. One economist explains this by noting that men took most of the job-losing hit in the recession; once those men are hired back, things should even out.
My question is this--
Which part of this mass of mysteries would be solved by having more college graduates? As is often the case with economic stories, a variety of economists were quoted with a variety of theories. And yet not one was quoted as saying, "This trend would be aided by having more college graduates--oh, and high school grads who are totally career ready."
The administration's theory is that a bumped-up education system would totally wipe out unemployment, poverty, and halitosis. It's a great theory-- it just doesn't seem to have any support in reality. Even computer giants are laying off workers (while claiming that they really need more of those cheap foreign visa hires). And long before the ACA, employers were figuring out that is they just kept to a part-time work force, they could save big bucks on benefits and health care. Plus that overseas tendency to work for peanuts which employers find so appealing.
Put it all together and you get a picture of employment and the economy that is complicated, difficult and not easily fixed. The notion that simply overhauling the US education system will fix it is either incredibly naively dopey, or a cynical ploy to look pro-active instead of helpless. Do any of these mysteries look like a problem in search of a Common Core solution? The idea that economic recovery will be spurred by flunking eight-year-olds who do poorly on standardized reading tests or making all sixteen-year-olds study calculus-- well, that's even worse than a unicorn hunt. It's just one more way in which we propose to punish pour children for their parents' and grandparents' economic failings. As solutions go, we'd be as far ahead to sacrifice newts under a full moon.