We have unemployment, not structural unemployment
The term "structural unemployment" gets bandied about a lot, but it isn't explained very clearly or very often. In a nice column for Project Syndicate, Brad DeLong explains what structural unemployment is, and how we know we're not facing it:
Let us remember what structural unemployment looks like. The economy is depressed and unemployment is high not because of slack aggregate demand generated by a collapse in spending, but instead because “structural” factors have produced a mismatch between the skills of the labor force and the distribution of demand. The structure of demand by consumers is different from the jobs that workers are capable of filling.
For example, suppose that you have many workers qualified and skilled to work in construction, but households have decided that their houses are more than large enough, and wish to fill them with manufactured goods. This would produce structural unemployment to the extent that the ex-construction workers could not do things in manufacturing that would make it worthwhile for manufacturing firms to hire them.
In that case, we would expect to see construction depressed: firms closed, capital goods idle, and workers unemployed. But we would also expect to see manufacturing plants running at double shifts – the money not spent on construction has to go somewhere, and, remember, the problem is not a lack of aggregate demand. We would expect to see manufacturers holding job fairs, and when not enough workers showed up, we would expect to see manufacturers offering higher wages to attract workers into their plants, and then raising prices to cover their higher costs.[...]
That is what “mismatch” structural unemployment looks like – and it is not what we have today, at least not in Europe and North America. In the past three years, employment in construction has shrunk, but so has employment in manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information distribution and communications, professional and business services, educational services, leisure and hospitality, and in the public sector. Employment is up in health care, Internet-related businesses, and perhaps in logging and mining.
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