THE BLOG
06/13/2010 12:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Collision Course with the Future: America's Next Employment Crisis


America is facing a jobs crisis, but it's not the one you know about.

Yes, there is the immediate employment crisis, in which roughly one in ten Americans wants to work but has no job. But there is also a looming crisis that is far more insidious: when our economy does start to grow jobs again, millions of American workers won't be qualified to fill them, creating a real "education deficit." And this is something we can work to prevent, by starting now.

A new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce details the growing and alarming mismatch between the number of American jobs requiring advanced education and the number of workers who have the skills and training to fill those jobs. "Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018" shows ,unfortunately,that even as the country pulls out of the recession over the next few years, this mismatch will only get worse. One key conclusion of the report is that, by 2018, our economy will need 22 million new workers with college degrees -- and we will fall short of that number by at least 3 million graduates. This translates into a deficit of 300,000 college graduates every year from now to 2018. At a time when every job is precious, this shortfall will mean lost economic opportunity and an increasingly difficult path to the middle class for millions of American workers.

The Georgetown report concludes that the labor market will not be fully back up to speed until 2015. But by then, it will have created enough jobs to replace the 7.8 million lost since the recession started plus an additional 8 million jobs to make up for lost growth and to accommodate new job seekers.

A large chunk of the unemployed are long-term unemployed, with limited hope of finding new jobs. That's because the jobs they held before, which required relatively low skill levels, are not coming back. They are being replaced instead by jobs for which workers with limited education or skills are unqualified. A glance inside the Labor Department's May jobs report confirms how tough it is already for workers with lower levels of education. Among those workers 25 years and older who have a bachelor's degree and higher, the jobless rate is 4.7 percent while the rate more than doubles to 10.9 percent for those with only a high school diploma and nearly triples to 15 percent for those with less than a high school diploma.

The change in the economy is very clear on this point: many of the fastest growing industries and occupations will require some of the highest education levels.

Jobs that disappear in recessions tend to be low-skill positions that can either be automated or shifted offshore to cut costs. The positions that take their place tend to be jobs that demand more complex tasks -- and require more education and training to perform successfully.

Instead of asking whether everyone needs to go to college, we should be asking if we can produce enough workers with degrees that meet the demands of the 21st century economy.

It is imperative that our politicians and policymakers immediately address ways to close the education-employment gap. Finding the right answers to this dilemma is crucial to our economic success, and failure to do so risks leaving millions of workers behind as the U.S. economy recovers and builds for the future.