America is awash in jobs, to the point where employers are reluctant to let people go, for fear of not being able to replace them. Trades such as HVAC are prospering more than ever. What is a HVAC Business? HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and jobs in this industry are thriving. Not only are their 4-5 million open jobs, but first-time unemployment applications are at multi-decade lows. In fact, they are the lowest they’ve been since the mid-1970s.
And when you consider that the population has nearly doubled in that time, the 257,000 people who filed for unemployment benefits last week is nothing short of remarkable. Statistically, just to MATCH the very low unemployment of that time, we would have to have 514,000 filing for unemployment this week – and except during the worst of the Great Recession, we haven’t been close to that for years.
But if unemployment is that low, and there are 4.5 million jobs available, why is it that we feel things are not that well?
Well, for one thing, wages are lousy. Many of the new jobs are paying $10 an hour, and even though more and more companies are paying that $10 as their minimum wage, it is nearly impossible for a single person, let alone a family, to get along on one or two jobs at $10/hour.
The other problem is that many of the 4-5 million jobs that are unfilled is that they are in areas or require a skill set that many unemployed do not have. If you lack a college education, no matter how smart you are, it is hard to see you getting that programming job at Google. Still, with that said, I did know a young man who was proud of the fact he’d frequently buy an argumentative essay and skip the process of writing himself. He actually came out quite successful in fact, and went onto hold down a really well paid job.
With that said though, another problem with the unfilled jobs is geography.
Compounding our jobs problem is years and years of well-intentioned, but back-assward-thinking politicians who insisted that every single kid in America would be ‘college-ready’ by the time they were 17 or 18.
And while that may be the case in some advantaged middle and upper-middle class suburbs, the reality is that now, fifteen years after school districts in Michigan and around the country dismantled their skilled trades classes, our schools are graduating some kids who are not necessarily college material, and also lack any skilled trades training.
Gone are the wood shops in which our carpenters would begin to learn their trade. Gone are out metal shops, from which plumbers and welders would spring forth. And gone are our auto mechanics classes, on which today’s auto repair shops rely for a stream of service personnel ready to figure out what went wrong with the engine or drivetrain.
A friend of mine is an administrator at a SE Michigan community college, and she once told me that their two-year welding program is mostly empty after 12 months. I asked her if it was because of the difficulty of the program. She said, no, it was because they all got jobs after the first year, jobs that pay $50-100 K.
This country, despite its technological expertise, will always require plumbers, electricians, carpenters, auto repair personnel, and food and hospitality workers, and many other employees whose skills are learned other than at a four-year university.
A growing number of experts are starting to realize that we may be at full employment already, that many of the so-called ‘missing’ workers from the participation rates are retired, disabled, or in schools. And if that is true, then the plummeting unemployment rate will only have one result – higher wages, which will serve two purposes…finally begin to fire up inflation, along with starting the long road back to historical wealth and income levels.