There’s a new cliff in town, and it’s much scarier than the fiscal cliff. It doesn’t have anything to do with expiring tax cuts or sequesters. It has to do with people who have been out of work for six months or longer. It’s the worst cliff of them all: the Unemployment Cliff.
Our unemployment crisis is also an unemployment enigma. When jobs openings go up, unemployment should go down. This relationship is captured by the Beveridge Curve, seen below. The diagonal red line says that when there are more vacant job openings, the unemployment rate should be lower. But as you can see in the bottom right hand corner, something strange (and very bad!) is happening. More job openings haven’t produced more jobs. That suggests a mismatch between jobs and skills … the dreaded “structural unemployment.”
Look again. This might be the most important chart you’ll see. If unemployment really is structural, there’s not much more policymakers can do to bring it down. If it’s not, policymakers should be tearing their hair out to put people back to work. So, is it? No. A pioneering paper out of the Boston Fed pretty definitively shows that we have a long-term unemployment problem, not a structural unemployment problem.
There’s always a story when it comes to structural unemployment, and it’s almost always a story about old workers needing new skills for our brave, new economic world. The Boston Fed paper, by Rand Ghayad, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Northeastern and Visting Fellow at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and William Dickens, a professor of economics at Northeastern and visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, looks at the Beveridge curves for different ages, industries and education levels to figure out exactly who is getting left behind nowadays. The answer is … everybody.