Economic analysts have given us the phrase “jobless recovery” in part to describe a post-recession period in which unemployment has remained stubbornly high, the jobless rates in some parts of the country still hovering around double digits. The puzzle is why labor markets in some metropolitan areas — Pittsburgh, for instance — have recovered much more quickly than others. A new study by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution offers invaluable insight into that puzzle. The findings demonstrate again the critical connection between education and the economic health of metropolitan areas.
In an analysis of the nation’s largest 100 metro areas, the study measured the educational level of workers and how much education is required for the job openings in each metro area. The study found that the “education gap,” the difference between job requirements and the attainment of workers, accounts for about two-thirds of the variation in unemployment among metro areas. It concludes the most important factor that explains long-term unemployment — and its impact on a metro economy — is an imbalance between the demand for and the supply of educated workers.
Consider the implications of the imbalance in the Akron area: 35.6 percent of jobs in the area require a bachelor’s degree or higher, but just 16.2 percent of unemployed workers have the required education. In 2011, the average unemployed worker with a bachelor’s degree or better could apply for five job openings. In contrast, there were 2.6 openings for a job seeker with an associate’s degree or some college and merely 1.6 openings for someone with a high school diploma or less.
As the report emphasizes, in an economy increasingly driven by new technologies, labor demands play to the strengths of highly educated workers, who are more likely to create business creation, among other attributes. Thus metro areas with larger populations of educated workers have significantly higher rates of job openings and job growth. The choice facing metro areas such as Akron is whether they can muster the resources to narrow the mismatch between the supply and demand for an educated labor force — knowing education has never been more important as an engine of regional recovery and prosperity.