The latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates the U.S. unemployment rate has recently fallen to 4%. Most economists agree that full employment or the natural rate of unemployment is between 4.1% and 4.7%.
U.S. employers are having difficulty finding qualified employees.
With the current unemployment rate at historic post World War II low points, U.S. employers are having difficulty finding qualified employees to fill a record 6.7 million job openings. What does this mean for the U.S. economy? For the first time, according to the BLS, job openings exceed the number of people currently classified as unemployed (6.0M). According to a recent article in Barron’s, this labor shortage is predicted to last for decades, as the country’s demand for goods and services will continue to grow faster than the workforce.
There is a shortage of adults working or actively seeking work.
The shortage of workers is compounded by the fact that labor force participation (adults working or actively seeking work) has dropped from 67% of the adult population in 2000 to 63% in 2018. According to Dr. Bill Conerly, writing for Forbes, the working age population over the next decade will be the lowest since the Civil War. The decline in available labor is due to a historic combination of demographic trends and social issues, such as immigration policy, poverty rates, the opioid crisis, and the growth in U.S. prison populations.
The key to ensuring future U.S. economic growth is to bring traditionally marginalized or underemployed adults into the workforce.
Fourteen percent of adults in the United States struggle with low reading, writing, and basic math skills. This includes adults that have less than a high school education, former prisoners, and non-native English speakers.
In order to effectively incorporate these adults into the workforce, three key points need to be addressed:
- Access – We must increase access to resources for adults who want to improve their skills in literacy, numeracy, digital proficiency, and workforce preparedness or soft skills. This can be accomplished by expanding adult education classes in community based organizations, libraries, junior colleges, faith based organizations, and prisons.
- Funding – We must increase funding for adult basic education through government programs and the private sector, including employers and foundations. The ProLiteracy white paper, The Case for Investment in Adult Education (2017), featured a longitudinal study that showed significant increases over time in employment and income for disadvantaged adults who participated in adult education programs.
- Policy – There needs to be a policy change at the federal, state and local levels that recognize the importance of adult basic education and the relatively low literacy, numeracy and technology skills U.S. adults have compared to other developed countries (PIAAC 2013). If the U.S. plans for future economic growth, policy at all levels will need to outline support and growth of adult basic education to grow the labor force.
To summarize; Increased access and funding for adult basic education resources and a change in public policy, including increased participation of the private sector in adult basic education, will directly impact all Americans by contributing to a healthy economy through increased employment and reduced public assistance.