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Opening Arguments

We're so typical

The Wall Stree Journal uses Fort Wayne to ilustrate the mismatch today between jobs available and applicants' skills:

FORT WAYNE, Ind.—Unemployment in this Midwest manufacturing city is 6.8%, below the national average, but far above normal historically. There are 14,600 people locally looking for work, about 60% more than six years ago.

Yet for many employers with openings, here and elsewhere, filling those jobs isn't easy and not for a lack of trying.

Most applicants for factory-floor jobs at Fort Wayne Metals don't have the skills needed to do the work, and the medical wire maker is hesitant to do more training. At Sweetwater Sound Inc., an Internet retailer, applicants often know a lot about guitars and recording gear, but can't schmooze over the phone with the customers, its hiring manager said. The local school system's part-time, classroom aide positions, which pay between $8.65 and $11.79 an hour without health benefits, go unfilled because locals won't even apply for jobs at that wage, officials said.

That mismatch between skills and applicants, available and desired pay is a big conundrum in today's labor market. Most economists conclude that the bulk of today's unemployment, there are 3.4 jobless workers for each opening or nearly double the December 2007 level, would disappear if business conditions improved. If they're right, then pumping more fiscal or monetary stimulus into the economy will bring unemployment down; if they're wrong, then short-term measures are useless and the U.S. will be plagued with higher-than-traditional levels of unemployment for a long time.

It's a meaty, in-depth article that looks at the situation from a lot of different angles. The gist of it, if I'm reading it correctly, is that this really is a long-term problem that won't be fixed with so-called stimulus spending. Even in manufacturing there is no longer a factory floor you can just walk onto and start doing your part in the process. Every job requires a skill set and both employers and potential employees are getting pickier.

The headline, by the way, is a lot more negative than the actual story. "A Jobless Dilemma: What's Wrong With Fort Wayne?" makes it sound like we're uniquely burdened, when in fact the story uses our city as a typical one.


Harl Delos
Fri, 12/07/2012 - 11:28am

I suspect the WSJ folks were copying "What's The Matter With Kansas?", in which Thomas Frank looked at Kansas, and suggested the same things were happening everywhere in the US.

The book spent 18 weeks on the NY Times best-seller list, but I'm not sure it deserved to.  For instance, one excerpt says "This wotuld have been a political certainty, as predictable as what happens when you touch a match to a puddle of gasoline."

The problem is that Frank has never touched a match to a puddle of gasoline. What actually happens is that the match goes out.

Gasoline fumes between 1.4% and 7.6% concentration are explosive, but liquid gasoline is fairly safe. The Model T had n0 fuel pump; they had the gas tank mounted above the engine, and it fed by gravity.  Ford field reps would point out how this wasn't a bad design by dropping a flaming stick into a full gas tank. The gasoline would extinguish the flame.

Don't try it with a partial tank of gas, though!