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    Closing the skills gap

Closing the skills gap 02:02

Finally, a boffo jobs report. Economists called it everything from “monster,” a “game-changer,” and “unequivocally strong.” At this rate, the President could close the jobs hole and be able to say the economy has recovered all the jobs lost since he took office. The jobless rate is back now to where it was in February 2009, the month after his inauguration. One month does not make a trend, but certainly the past few months have been strong and now we have more than a year of net jobs gains and 23 months of private-sector jobs growth.

Two more bright spots – relatively speaking: the jobless rate for recent veterans is trending lower, and the rate for African-Americans showed a surprise drop to 13.6% from 15.8%. They are still way too high, but the first move lower we’ve seen in some time.

But chances are, if you are long-term unemployed, you are screaming at the headlines about the suddenly robust jobs market.

And here’s why. This chart tells the story.

In January only 58.5% of the working-age population in America had a job. It’s the lowest percentage of Americans working since the early 1980s, and it back then took almost 10 years to get people working again. The difference is, back then we had a manufacturing base that revved and provided steady jobs with high wages and benefits. People had a diverse array of job categories to be absorbed back into. Today, there is an existential crisis about which jobs will grow and which will never come back. And many Americans are working freelance, contract jobs, or making jobs for themselves – with longer hours, less pay and fewer benefits.

    So the job market grows – hallelujah! – yet the labor market today is full of disconnects. We hear again and again about STEM – that acronym for Science Technology Engineering and Math. We know 8 of the top ten highest paid jobs in this country are engineering jobs. We fret that our school children aren’t getting the basics to make it in STEM and we worry that smart kids in STEM leave the fields for finance or “easier” majors.

    Yet the most famous engineer this week is the out-of-work husband of a young woman named Jennifer who shared her plight with the president in a Google-Plus town hall. The president expressed surprise that an engineer would be out of work since business leaders have told him they can’t find qualified STEM workers.

    There’s that disconnect, between workers who want a job and companies who say they have openings but can’t find the right mix of skills in today’s workforce.

    Steve Case, CEO of Revolution and Startup America Chairman, says business and government need to do a better job “connecting” people and jobs. (You can hear more of his comments about entrepreneurship on the show Saturday morning at 9:30a ET)

    But another disconnect jumped out at me from the pre-interview with another of the CEOs on the show, Darlene Miller of Permac Industries. She told one of our producers that she feels the news media has been too negative on the jobs market. She says we have to be optimistic about the labor market and realize that “92% of America is working.” She is clearly flipping the jobless rate upside down (8.3%) and looking at the other part of that statistic (which would actually be 91.7 percent, but we’ll allow for the rounding.)

    I have heard this before from the corporate suite. And it is entirely incorrect.

    92% of America is not working. Not even close. Here again is that chart showing the percentage of the working-age population that is working.

    Any time an American CEO says “92% of America is working” or dismisses the long-term unemployed as media-driven pessimism is more evidence of this growing disconnect in the labor market.

    Don’t get me wrong. That was a great jobs report. There are reasons to be optimistic about the economy. But the largest and most dynamic jobs market is the world is full of charts and statistics, and behind all of them are people and families. And we still need to be pushing for solutions to drive new ideas, better education, more entrepreneurship, innovation and policies that support working families.

    This is just the beginning.

    Weigh in and tell us what the best ideas you have seen and heard, and what the jobs market is like for you and your family.

    Have a great weekend and please watch!

    - Christine