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There are 2.6 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. Why??


Guest blog from Economics Editor Peter Coy

Yes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary), there were just under 2.6 million job openings on the last business day of May. (The report was released July 7.) These are jobs that employers are actively recruiting to fill, not just slots they’re leaving open until the economy gets better.

How could there be so many jobs going begging, when so many Americans are begging for jobs? As I wrote in a story a few months ago, the big problem is a mismatch. Often the mismatch is in skills: Workers don’t have the skills that employers are looking for, or in some cases they’re overqualified and employers won’t hire them because they fear they’ll bolt as soon as the economy revives. In other cases it’s a geographic mismatch, which has been worsened by the housing bust. People owe more on their mortgages than they can get by selling their homes, so they can’t afford to move to where the jobs are. Sad.

OK. You’re wondering why this post is illustrated by a pair of cruise ships. It’s to make the point that some of the 2.6 million jobs are actually pretty good. Here’s an excerpt from a press release I got today from a public relations woman named Heidi Allison, who also runs a reference-checking service called Allison & Taylor. Three categories of jobs that cruise lines need to fill:

Wine & Cheese Sommeliers: Crystal Cruises was the first line (in August 2008) to feature professionally trained and certified cheese sommeliers who introduce travelers to samplings of new flavors, textures and cheese combinations that complement food and wine. These sommeliers receive intensive training and certification supervised by world-renowned authorities on this subject.

Gentlemen Host: Gentleman hosts exist for the simple reason that there are more single ladies than men on cruise ships and cruise lines like to provide dance partners and companions for their lady passengers. And while the criteria for gentlemen hosts are very strict, there are numerous vacancies available. Cruise lines offering gentleman host programs include Cunard Line, Delta Queen Steamboat Company, Orient Lines, Silversea Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, and World Explorer Cruises. [A reader points out that some of these lines are defunct or have new names.]Art Auctioneer: Over the last two decades, auctioning “fine art” on cruises, often to first-time bidders, has become big business. Park West Gallery of Michigan handles such a high volume of art sales at sea that it bills itself as “the world’s largest art dealer”, selling art on the Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Carnival, Disney, Holland America, Regent and Oceania lines. (Princess runs its own auctions in-house.)

I asked Heidi Allison why these jobs are hard to fill. They all sound pretty cushy. She said the art auctioneer can make six figures a year. The gentleman hosts get paid less but have nice fringe benefits.

She said: “People don’t know about them. I’d say that’s the main reason.”

A market imperfection! Now, that’s an explanation an econogeek with a taste for cruising can relate to! Any unemployed economists who wind up on a cruise ship after reading this post should contact me by ship-to-shore radio, or whatever they use these days.


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