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During his speech to the annual CPAC conference of conservative activists, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said one key for economic growth is to have workers with better skills.
"There are 3 million jobs available in America that are not filled because too many of our people don’t have the skills for those jobs," Rubio said in his March 14, 2013, speech.
Coincidentally, just moments before Rubio uttered those words, we posted a fact check of a similar comment by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. Foxx had said in a House floor speech that "there are 3.6 million jobs sitting vacant, in part because there aren’t enough qualified applicants to fill them."
Because the analysis required for both quotes is so similar, we will rely heavily here on the Foxx fact-check. But while we rated Foxx’s claim Mostly True, Rubio’s statement was worded differently. Foxx hedged her comment by saying that it was "in part" because of unqualified applications, but Rubio’s wording suggests that all the vacancies stem from skill shortages.
We turned to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government’s scorekeeper on employment data.
The 3 million figure Rubio used is similar to the 3.6 million figure Foxx cited. It comes from a monthly survey called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS. The most recent seasonally adjusted data covers January 2013 and showed that there were just under 3.7 million job openings in January, up slightly from 3.6 million in December 2012.
But Rubio specifically said "there are 3 million jobs available in America that are not filled because too many of our people don’t have the skills for those jobs." A close look at the survey reveals it doesn’t actually support that thesis.
The bureau’s official definition of a "job opening" is "a specific position of employment to be filled at an establishment" that satisfy these conditions: "there is work available for that position, the job could start within 30 days, and the employer is actively recruiting for the position."
However, there are always job openings -- even in a healthy economy. In a phenomenon known as "churn," people change jobs. Just because their old job is unoccupied when the BLS takes its monthly data snapshot doesn’t necessarily mean that the employer is having trouble filling the job, or finding the skills of the applicants lacking. Rather, the employer could simply be going through the process of hiring, with the job filled a month later.
Over the past decade, the December monthly totals for job openings have ranged from 2.9 million to 4.4 million.
So, if Rubio means to say that 3 million of the 3.7 million job openings are open due to skill shortfalls, he has no way of knowing that because that sort of data is not collected. The same is true if he was simply using "3 million" as shorthand for "3.7 million."
The data from this survey "has important limitations," said Steven J. Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, because it "provides little information about the distribution of vacancy durations" and "no direct information about the reason why some job openings take a long time to fill."
So what can we say about the scale of the skills mismatch? It boils down largely to a battle of anecdotes.
Rubio’s office didn’t get back to us for this story, but Foxx’s office provided links to a variety of news reports that suggest a divergence between applicants’ job skills and the ones employers are seeking. Economists we consulted agreed that that is part of the issue, particularly for high-skill jobs. But it’s probably not the only reason.
For instance, there appears to be a "hiring paralysis" among employers who are acting with unusual caution because they are uncertain whether the economy will remain strong rather than stagnating, according to economists and hiring professionals quoted in the New York Times earlier this year.
Rubio said, "There are 3 million jobs available in America that are not filled because too many of our people don’t have the skills for those jobs."
If one allows him some space for using shorthand, Rubio is basically right that there are "3 million jobs available in America." But while there is anecdotal evidence of a job-skills shortage, there is no data to prove his contention that the 3 million jobs in question are all open because of a mismatch in job skills. In fact, there’s significant evidence to contradict it -- the fact that the statistics in question always capture normal job churn, for instance, and the signs of "hiring paralysis" among employers. On balance, we rate the claim Half True.
Marco Rubio, speech to CPAC, March 14, 2013
Virginia Foxx,House floor speech, March 12, 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics,Job Openings and Labor Turnover monthly news release, January 2013
Steven J. Davis, R. Jason Faberman and John C. Haltiwanger, "The Establishment-Level Behavior of Vacancies and Hiring," Jan. 31, 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics,glossary of labor and employment terms, accessed March 12, 2013
New York Times, "With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection," March 6, 2013
New York Times, "A Shift Toward Higher Job Vacancy Rates" (graphic), March 6, 2013
PolitiFact, "Rep. Virginia Foxx warns of mismatch between skills, available jobs," March 14, 2013
Email interview with Tara Sinclair, economist at George Washington University, March 13, 2013
Email interview with Steven J. Davis, economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, March 13, 2013
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