Job figures raise questions about qualifications

07/21/2014 9:06 PM

07/21/2014 9:12 PM

State labor and supply data show there are almost as many job openings in Greenville County as there are unemployed people, suggesting there is work to be found but raising questions about job skills and worker training, economists said.

The state had 60,945 job openings reported by the Conference Board’s Help Wanted OnLine, or HWOL, which tracks online job advertisements and whose information is listed by the state Department of Employment and Workforce.

By contrast, the state had 115,583 unemployed, for an unemployed-to-job-opening ratio of 2:1.

Greenville County had 9,880 job openings. The county had 11,196 jobless residents, for an unemployed-to-job-opening ratio of about 1:1.

“The jobs are out there,” said Adrienne Fairwell, a department spokeswoman.

Of the online ads in the state, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers had the highest number in June, with 3,542, followed by registered nurses, with 3,104. Rounding out the top five occupations were retail sales supervisors (2,068), retail sales (1,651) and customer service representatives (1,366).

Labor demand was greatest in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties — the Trident Workforce Area — with 14,336 posted ads, according to HWOL data.

In South Carolina, the data showed an increase of 868 ads from May to June. Compared with last June, South Carolina ads increased 2,410. Across the nation, online ads increased 155,943 in the last month.

DEW officials said Monday full employment as defined by macroeconomics is the condition in the national economy in which virtually all who are able and willing to work are employed.

Some economists have equated that condition to an unemployment rate of about 3 percent, DEW officials said.

The figure embodies the highest amount of skilled and unskilled labor employed within an economy at any given time, with an acceptable level of natural unemployment, the officials said.

The economists stress that the unemployment puzzle has multiple parts, and a critical point in assessing South Carolina’s overall economic health is examining employment growth.

At issue is whether people are dropping out of the workforce, frustrated that they don’t have needed skills, or have been forced to retire.

“The jobs are out there, but we’re getting a very distorted picture of the labor market right now,” said Joey Von Nessen, a University of South Carolina economist.

Nationally, the job vacancy rate — or available, but unfilled jobs — has returned to pre-recession levels, Von Nessen said. That makes the labor market look “pretty good,” he said.

But from the supply side, the average number of weeks people are unemployed hasn’t dipped much, Von Nessen said.

In addition, the percentage of people working between the ages of 25 and 54, the prime working period, dropped off during the recession and hasn’t rebounded significantly, he said.

In the case of some people, job skills have declined, he said. For others, the labor market is changing.

“We’re seeing that in South Carolina, particularly in manufacturing, where many of the new manufacturing jobs are not the same jobs that were lost during the recession,” Von Nessen said. “They require more job training and they’re much more technical positions, taking advantage of new technology. And so job training becomes critically important for workers to make that transition.”

The size of South Carolina’s labor force also has been declining, suggesting the unemployment rate is “somewhat of a poor indicator” in assessing the state’s economic health, Von Nessen said.

“As the labor force has dropped, we’ve seen employment gains, too, but both of those are contributing to a decline in the unemployment rate.”

He noted an unemployment rate can go down when the size of the labor force drops, even if the number of people with jobs remains constant.

Government measures of “marginally attached” workers show unemployment rates about double the conventional national and state figures, Von Nessen said.

That category includes those working part time even though they want full-time jobs and those not actively looking because they are discouraged, he said.

South Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held firm at 5.3 percent in June, reflecting no change since April, state officials said last week.

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