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Skills Gap? Isn't Highly Qualified U.S. Workforce Just Under-Trained?

In the debate over why the U.S. has been so slow to emerge from the Great Recession, many have laid the blame on what's become known as the skills gap: Despite an abundance of workers, too many simply aren't qualified to fill the jobs available. Even now that hiring is running at its fastest clip since the late 1990s, business and industry groups such as the Chamber of Commerce continue to emphasize the damage the skills gap is doing to the economy. So do a lot of consulting firms.

These reports tend to rely on surveys from employers and usually point to the growing number of unfilled job openings. Indeed, there are now 4.7 million job openings in the U.S., the most in more than a decade. Even so, some 9.7 million people are looking for work—more than two for every open job. The skills gap argument relies on that basic paradox: How can there be so many unemployed people in the face of so many job openings?

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