The United States is at an eighteen-year low for unemployment (3.9%), but there are still over six million unemployed people. Many of these people are long-term unemployed, meaning that they have been unemployed for six months or longer. Among the unemployed, there are also persistent racial disparities, with people of color more likely to be unemployed. Beyond the people who are counted as unemployed because they actively searched for a job within the last four weeks, there are millions more people who have dropped out of the labor force—especially since the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. While the United States once led the world in the proportion of people in the labor force (including women), we now have one of the lowest labor force participation rates among developed economies. This means that a smaller proportion of the adult population in America is either working or actively looking for work than during our past.
While there are millions of unemployed and under-employed people, we have a shortage of millions of workers across several critical industries. In fact, there are more job openings than unemployed people for the first time in decades, with some companies—and entire industries—losing business because they cannot find enough workers to fill their openings and meet their customers’ demand for products.
While there may never be perfect, continuous alignment between jobseekers and job openings, the government can significantly influence the labor force and job market by bridging the gap between the skills and education of the workforce and businesses’ need for employees with certain skills.
Apprenticeships are an effective solution to address this structural mismatch between jobseekers and employers, which is both hindering economic mobility for individuals, contributing to levels of inequality last reached during the Great Depression, and limiting the growth of businesses across several industries. Left unchecked, this trend will only get worse as our economy continues to undergo massive changes, bringing in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.