Many claims have been made about why there are so many Americans in the long-term unemployed category now. One of the leading ones calls the problem "structural." Boiled down to its essence, it's an argument that workers are at fault for not having the right skills. To believe that means accepting that workers who had the right skills up until the Great Recession began suddenly lost them or that employers came to the realization as the economic downturn continued that workers they thought had had the right skills actually didn't.
It's certainly true—in good times and bad—that some people who want jobs don't have the right skills to get a good one. It's also true that the longer someone is unemployed, the more their skills erode, either from lack of practice or from technological and managerial advances. But if there were really a major mismatch between available jobs and available workers with the right skills, wages for filling those jobs would rise. And there is no evidence for that. Moreover, while education matters, many of the needed skills are learned on the job. It's a rare hire that's a perfect match of skills and requirements.
The reality is that long-term joblessness does not equal structural unemployment. In fact, between March 2007 and March 2011, more than 28 percent of Americans added to the ranks of the long-term unemployed had a college or post-college degree.
And that ratio has not changed a lot in the past three years. Heidi Shierholz at the liberal Economic Policy Institute says:
The figure [above] shows there is a dramatic increase in long-term unemployment relative to before the recession started at all levels of education. While workers with higher levels of education face substantially lower long-term unemployment rates—which is always true, in good times and bad—they too have long-term unemployment rates that are more than three times as high as before the recession started. Long-term unemployment is high not because workers lack the right education or skills, but because employers have not seen demand for their goods and services pick up enough to need to significantly ramp up hiring.You can read EPI's detailed analysis with breakdowns of long-term unemployment by gender, race/ethnicity, age, occupation and industry.