The blog of the Urban Institute
December 20, 2012

Number of Workers per Open Position Skyrocketed During Recession

December 20, 2012

The unemployment rate increased dramatically during the Great Recession, from 5 percent at the beginning of 2008 to 10 percent less than two years later. During the same time, the number of open positions fell from 4 million to 2.5 million. As a consequence, many more workers have been competing for fewer available jobs.

This imbalance, however, varies greatly by industries. Some only saw a moderate increase in the number of unemployed workers per open position, whereas others experienced significant increases. To see how workers in different industries fared, I calculated the number of unemployed workers per open position from 2003 to 2011 for various industries, including manufacturing, professional or business services, and the financial sector.

Before 2008, most industries had a more equivalent number of unemployed workers per open position, so employees who lost their jobs had a good chance finding a new one in their field. During the recession, the number of unemployed workers per open position shot up for some industries. In manufacturing, there were 2 unemployed workers per open position at the beginning of 2008, but more than 10 per position just two years later. In construction, this number rose from 5 to over 25. Other industries, by contrast, saw much more modest increases. For instance, in the educational, health, and social services industry, the number of unemployed workers per open position went up from 1 to 2.5.

Competition for jobs in industries like manufacturing or construction intensified during the recession, driving some to look for new jobs outside of their industry. This often implies learning new skills for a different occupation and accepting much lower wages than before. Many others are still unemployed as their industries simply do not have enough jobs to fill the need.


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