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Robert Trigaux

A Goldilocks economy? Jobs out there demand advanced degree or pay too little



jobfaircoliseumstpetejan2011cheriediez.jpgWake up and good morning. An overflow job fair Wednesday at St. Petersburg's Coliseum serves as a sharp reminder that, while so many folks are still looking for jobs and more companies are finally looking for certain types of workers, there's still a Big Gap out there between worker skills and available positions. An estimated 4,500 job seekers packed the fair, where about 50 employers were hiring. (Photo: Cherie Diez of St. Petersburg Times.)

Is this a Goldilocks economy -- available jobs are either too big (requiring a master's degree or super-specific skills) or too small (minimum wage with little opportunity to advance)?

As St. Pete Times staff writer Jeff Harrington notes in his story on the job fair, there was frustration by the unemployed like Jonelle DeBlanc, who had driven 10 hours from Mississippi to attend: "Highly disappointed. There's nothing for people in the middle."

She's right. A thoughtful USA Today story headlined Tense time for workers, as career paths fade away reinforce DeBlanc's fears. It cites the work of MIT economist David Autor who in April published an influential paper that described the U.S. labor market as increasingly polarized, with growth at the high-skill, high-wage and low-skill, low-wage ends, and contraction in the vast middle.

The story, which says many people still employed fear for their jobs, also makes some other chilling points:

1. Globalization and automation may export or eliminate not only jobs, but entire occupations. The Labor Department predicts that during the next decade there will be fewer workers in almost one-quarter of the 750 occupations it tracks, even as the total number of jobs increases by 10 percent.

2. After a mostly "jobless" economic recovery, the nation eventually might accept a basic level of unemployment much higher than the 4 percent to 5 percent many economists and policymakers have long considered indicative of "full employment." Of course, since Tampa Bay's unemployment is well above 12 percent, cutting that in half -- still over 6 percent -- would ber heralded as a smashing success by many.

3. The USA Today story talks about today's labor market insecurity being a product of what economist Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction" — the fact that capitalism, as he wrote in 1942, "incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one." It is that same revolution that has helped create what St. Petersburg's Jeff Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James, has called "a bubble in pessimism" that's reflected in fewer marriages, a lower birthrate, less immigration and reduced mobility since the recession began in December 2007.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 7:03am]


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