Revisiting the 21st Century Draft Horse posting

In August 2010 I wrote a posting titled “unemployed = 21st century draft horse?” that questioned the extent to which American employers were likely to want to re-hire the lowest skilled workers in the U.S. Today’s New York Times has a related article: “The Vanishing Male Worker.” The article starts off with a guy that has been fired from two jobs that don’t require especially high levels of skill. It quotes an economist:

“They’re not working, because it’s not paying them enough to work,” said Alan B. Krueger, a leading labor economist and a professor at Princeton.

The (mostly American, presumably) readers take up this idea eagerly. There are hundreds of comments supporting raising the minimum wage and other non-market approaches to getting the least-attractive-to-employers Americans into well-paid jobs.

The employers’ perspective was not sought by the New York Times.

My own casual discussions with employers reveal a picture in which anyone with a reasonable level of attention to detail already has a job. A friend is an attorney in Denver, Colorado, where the cost of living is close to the national average. She is trying to hire an administrative assistant. This job requires no legal knowledge. The worker has simply to show up on time, be able to use Web sites such as Orbitz to book travel, be organized enough to keep a calendar, etc. How much will she have to pay to get someone qualified? “At least $ 70,000 per year,” was her answer, and in fact she hasn’t been able to find anyone good so far.

So… was the 2010 posting prescient? Or will the seventh year of “recovery” somehow make American employers enthusiastic about those working-age Americans who’ve spent the past six years at home?

[Note that government regulation over the past six years has made low-skill workers less attractive to employers. Obamacare requires that more employees be provided with health insurance (a big fraction of the total cost of hiring a low-skill worker). Minimum wages are higher in some places and for some employers, e.g., those with government contracts. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (2009) opens up new fields of potential litigation.]

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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