According to a recent report, there are 6.2 million job openings in the United States, the highest total in the 17 years since the Department of Labor began tracking this statistic. Given that there are currently 7 million Americans who are unemployed, this would seem to be encouraging news, evidence that the job market has finally stabilized.
And yet, a recent study by Bloomberg found that while the number of available jobs has indeed reached a record high, employers are having a difficult time finding people to fill them: “While 19 percent of small businesses planned to beef up their workforce, the biggest share in more than a decade, 35 percent said they were having trouble filling positions in July […] Of those rejecting job applicants, 26 percent cited a lack of specific skills.”
Many on the right have historically blamed immigration for the challenges faced by American workers in finding employment. Since immigrants are willing to do the same jobs for less money, the thinking goes, the hardworking American doesn’t stand a chance. This line of thinking was employed by Donald Trump during the 2016 election season, when he campaigned on a platform of bringing jobs back to Americans.
While it’s tempting for some of the population to claim that illegal immigrants came in and stole millions upon millions of jobs from Americans, the data is clear: immigrants are not the problem. Rather, the problem is the unwillingness of certain groups to adapt to a changing job market and the skills necessary to participate in that market.
Manufacturing, for example, accounts for more than one-third of the United States’ GDP. In the 1960s, approximately 22.4% of the workforce was employed in the manufacturing industry; in 2016, however, only 7.8% of the workforce was employed in the manufacturing industry.
What happened? Simple: businesses became more efficient — instead of employing 10 workers to perform a task, businesses began augmenting their human capital with technology and machinery that could do the same job for a fraction of the price. And as much as Trump claims that he can bring back these kinds of jobs, there’s no denying reality: those jobs are gone, and they’re not coming back.
As a younger worker (I’m 31), I’ve learned that job security is not a given — nowhere in the Constitution does it say that all Americans are guaranteed employment. If I lose my job, I accept that the onus is on me to learn the requisite skills (or figure out how to apply the skills I currently have) to take on a new role.
Many (primarily conservative) Americans refuse to accept this reality. There is a strange tendency among these Americans to deify America as it was in the 1960s, when factory work grew on trees. Rather than accept that this version of America no longer exists, this group looks for someone or something to blame for their troubles: immigrants, regulation, outsourcing, and so on.
So many blue-collar workers take pride in their work ethic, yet blame their inability to find employment on everything under the sun — except, ironically, their own unwillingness to learn new skills in order to stay relevant in the job market.
It’s understandable, to some degree. Maybe the average coal miner didn’t focus too much on school or skipped college because they’d always have a job at the mine. It’s hard not to empathize with someone who backed the wrong horse, who hitched their wagon to a dying industry because, hey, this is the job their family has done for generations.
Where I do find fault, however, is with the lengths to which these individuals will go to avoid taking responsibility for their own financial future. As voters, these individuals use their ballots as bargaining chips supporting whichever candidate appropriately panders to them and makes the promises they want to hear, even if those campaign-trail vows will never come to fruition. This is the new conservatism: decrying “welfare queens,” “illegals,” and “snowflakes” who need “safe spaces” while in the same breath whining that the government isn’t doing enough to hand everyone a job.
By and large, these workers have only their willful ignorance of reality to blame. Clean-energy companies are heavily investing in training programs for displaced former coal miners, and yet, these programs have garnered a lukewarm reception and lower-than-anticipated participation rates.
For all their bluster about working hard and taking whatever opportunity they can get, many of these workers don’t just want any job — they want their old job back. But the simple fact is, these jobs aren’t coming back. These workers would be better off acknowledging that certain jobs fall out of demand and adapt accordingly, rather than stomping their feet, complaining about it, and waiting for someone to give them the legislative equivalent of a welfare check.
America is the land of opportunity. It’s time American workers put themselves in a position to capitalize on it.