A glut of unfilled jobs could jeopardize economic growth. What Pa. and other states are doing to address that | Tuesday Morning Coffee

October 15, 2019 7:13 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
So this is one of those good news/bad news kind of stories. The good news: Unemployment in just about every state in the union is at historic lows. The bad news: An actual labor shortage is now threatening to jeopardize a decade’s worth of hard-won economic gains.

As our colleagues at report, 39 states, including Pennsylvania, currently have more open positions than people to fill them.

And while that might sound good on the surface, that’s created the “most challenging hiring environment,” that’s been seen in a while, an official with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, where the problem is particularly pronounced, told Stateline.

(Map via Click through for interactive version”)

All told, the number of job openings in August was 7.1 million, compared with 6 million unemployed people looking for work, Stateline reported, citing federal statistics.

Pennsylvania’s ratio of 0.8 people to actual openings mirrors the national ratio, according to Stateline’s analysis. A decade ago, in 2009, that Pennsylvania ratio was 4.6 people to actual openings. The national ratio at that time was 6.4 people for every opening, according to the Stateline analysis.

To address the labor shortfall, “states are offering financial incentives to entice prodigal natives to move home and raise families,” Stateline reported. “They’re also reaching out to discouraged workers who don’t show up in the record-low unemployment rate because they’ve given up seeking jobs. Among them: people with outdated skills, high-school dropouts and those with criminal records.”

One expert tells Stateline that states have two choices to deal with labor shortages.

Ryan Nunn, the policy director at the Hamilton Project, an economic policy project of the Brookings Institution, says the first is a “‘zero-sum game,’ which [states] compete with other states to attract the same workers. The second is a “positive sum” response: making existing workers more productive by giving them new skills, and training new workers drawn from disadvantaged groups like prisoners and dropouts.”

As Stateline reports, “states with the highest rates of openings are developing programs for residents who never started looking for jobs again after the Great Recession, when there were more than six people looking for every open job. Despite many openings now, the share of people working or looking for jobs remains low compared with 2000.”

(Image via

Some states, such as Missouri and Pennsylvania, are already trying to address the issue.

Last year, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, outlined plans to find new workers in a “Workforce 2030 report, which is the subject of a summit meeting this month including Republican Gov. Mike Parson.”

As Stateline reports, “some of the recommendations already have gone into new legislation, such as a bill signed by Parson in July to ease transfer of occupational licenses from other states, and to fund college training for people who need job skills. The report also suggests teaching more jobs skills to students starting in middle school, including making kids aware of good jobs they can get in manufacturing, technology and health care and how to qualify for them.”

Missouri is one of many states, including North Dakota and Pennsylvania, that are trying to smooth the path to employment for former prisoners. A Manhattan Institute study in 2015 showed that ex-prisoners who get jobs quickly are less likely to commit new crimes.

Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, along with the Democratic Wolf administration, made workforce development and job-training a centerpiece of last spring’s state budget debate.

And as the Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison reported in May, a bill introduced by state Senators and Representatives in the bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Caucus would make it easier for people with criminal records to obtain professional licenses required for such professions as barbering, cosmetology, nursing, and architecture.

“As it stands, many people who have felonies in Pennsylvania are automatically locked out of employment,” House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said. “If I have a felony drug charge, what does that have to do with me cutting hair?”

WikiMedia Commons

Our Stuff.
If you read no other story today, read this one: Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso goes deep on efforts to save two centers for people with intellectual disabilities in northern Pennsylvania. The centers are not only home and community for residents, they’re economic engines for the counties in which they’re located. This is what the through lines of policy are all about.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune, students at the University of Pennsylvania law school protested Monday, calling for the firing of controversial professor Amy Wax, whose views have been characterized as racist and bigoted.

On our Commentary Page, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan looks ahead to the challenge facing the 2020 Dems at tonight’s primary debate.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – JULY 30: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) embrace after the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 30, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Inquirer 
has your viewing guide for tonight’s Democratic presidential debate.
Pittsburgh City Paper takes you inside the ‘turmoil’ in the Allegheny County Democratic Committee over supporting independent candidates.
Allentown’s mayoral candidates faced off on Monday night. The topics: Public safety and the city’s finances, among other things. The Morning Call has the details.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

BillyPenn explains why some stores in Center City Philly are banning kids aged 18 and younger.
WHYY-FM has the details on a British family detained by ICE and held in a detention center in Berks County.
It will not surprise you to learn that Joe Biden has racked up a ton of endorsements from NePa pols ahead of a visit there. PoliticsPA has the full accounting.
With U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey set to retire when her term expires next year, House Dems are jockeying for position to replace herRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
11 a.m, Main Rotunda:
 Rally to let doctors write … more … opioids prescriptions.
The House Democratic Policy Committee revs its per-diem machine … erm … holds a public hearing at Cabrini University, in King of Prussia, Montgomery County, to talk about student loan debt.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Rep. Natalie Mihalek
 holds a 6:30 p.m. reception at Valley Brook Country Club in Canonsburg, Washington County. Admission runs $250 and $1,000.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Karina Cheung, of CBS-21, in Harrisburg, and to Darby Sells, of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a recent favorite from A.J. Tracey. It’s ‘Ladbroke Grove.’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
finally snapped Edmonton’s five-game winning streak. The ‘Hawks hung on to beat the Oilers 3-1 on Monday night. 

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.