How Big A Shortage?

Dec. 21, 2004

By 2010, just seven years from now, the shortage of workers is projected to be a stunning 10.03 million throughout the U.S. economy, figures the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Maybe. The truth is that nobody knows exactly how big the worker shortage will be. "The estimates the BLS has are the best estimates we have. [But] that doesn't mean they are accurate," states Carl Van Horn, a professor and director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. "Fundamentally, it depends upon GDP growth," he says. Indeed, depending on how fast the U.S. economy grows between now and the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, the shortage of skilled workers could be 6.5 million people, 8 million or even 12 million, he suggests. Economists generally figure U.S. GDP growth this year will be a below-par 2.5%. Nevertheless, it's possible for BLS to get GDP growth projections right, as it did in the late-1980s, and not anticipate some major structural changes in the labor market. "I don't remember anybody [who] predicted the dot-com revolution, nor did they predict the dot-com bust. And yet there were millions of jobs involved both on the upside and the down side," says Van Horn. Although the numbers may be less than precise, the BLS projections of a skilled workers shortage are in "the right direction," believes Van Horn. "For the next five years or so, there are going to be these skill shortages."

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