Labor Shortages: Myth and Reality
David Rosenberg isn't buying it. A North American economist at Merrill Lynch (MER), he is one of a number of economists who say the concerns about too few workers are vastly overblown. Rosenberg recently studied the issue and put out a report entitled Is There a Labor Shortage? If employers are having trouble filling jobs, "perhaps they're not looking hard enough," he says.
The issue may not be the number of workers, but rather the level of pay. Economists like Rosenberg argue that in a market economy, there's really no such thing as a true shortage. If you want more of something, you can pay more and have it. When employers say that there's a worker shortage, what they really mean is they can't get enough workers at the price they want to pay, the argument goes. "While it makes for nice cocktail conversation, the data aren't saying there is an acute labor shortage in this country," Rosenberg says.
Consider the numbers. Even as the unemployment rate has declined in recent years, millions of Americans have left the workforce and stopped looking for jobs. The government's Bureau of Labor Statistics has a dedicated category for "discouraged" workers who believe no positions are available to them. If the percentage of Americans participating in the workforce were the same now as it was in 2000, the number officially counted as unemployed would be 9.1 million, rather than 7.1 million. The unemployment rate would be 5.8%, instead of 4.6%.