For the first time in U.S. history, America has enough job openings to give every unemployed person in the country a job, according to data from the Labor Department on Tuesday.
There were a record 6.6 million job openings at the end of March, the Labor Department said. With unemployment down at 3.9 percent, that means there are enough jobs to employ everyone looking to work for the first time since the data began to be collected.
Not everyone will get a job, as openings are not necessarily a good fit for available workers and may require different skills than those workers have. Jobs may require workers move to places they do not want to live, or moving for work may be impractical. They may pay too little so that workers prefer unemployment, the boss may just be a big jerk, or the job unpalpable for one reason or another.
The Labor Department’s data is undeniably good news. An increase in job openings should coincide with a fall in unemployment, but in recent years this has not been the case since jobs opened up and yet unemployment remained stubbornly high. Economists debated the reasons for this disconnect, and found among them:
Some said that the decline in home prices, which left many Americans with mortgages worth more than their homes, made it harder for workers to move. Rapid changes in the economy might have created an unusually large “skills mismatch.” An aging population might be less eager to move to far-off places to work. Slow growth and high unemployment may have made employers unwilling to raise wages to attract workers, figuring no rush to fill positions. Employers could have been holding jobs open hoping to induce the government to expand foreign worker visa programs.
Whatever the reason for that disconnect, in recent months the normal relationship seems to have been restored. Job openings once again coincide with falling unemployment.
This is good news for workers in more ways than one, and likely means that further job creation will push wages up, which is the other missing piece of the employment puzzle in recent years. That remains to be seen, of course, and an unexpected economic slowdown or opening the country to additional foreign workers could prevent the realization of wage gains.