Ronald Bird
Former Senior Economist, Regulatory Analysis, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


October 10, 2019


Welcome to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s new Monthly Workforce Monitor — an analysis of the state of the U.S. job market and worker availability.

Analysis of new government data for August 2019 again shows barely one available worker for every job opening in America. The August data was little changed from July and June. This is continuing evidence of historically tight labor market conditions over the past year and a significant “people gap” challenge with regard to the American workforce.

The Worker Availability Ratio — an analysis developed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to measure the number of available workers for every job opening — was 1.10 in August, meaning there were 1.1 available workers for every job vacancy. That’s nearly unchanged from a 1.08 reading in July and 1.09 reading in June. The 12-month moving average (which smooths seasonal and sampling variations) remained at the historically low level of 1.04 available workers per job opening for the fifth consecutive month.

For our calculations, the number of available workers in August 2019 included 6.20 million “actively job seeking” unemployed persons and 1.56 million others whom the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as not in the labor force but “marginally attached;” that is, they want jobs, they are available for work, and they have looked for work in the past year, though they have not actively looked for work in the most recent month.

The total of 7.77 million available workers compares to 7.03 million job openings in August, according to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey report. August job openings included 6.29 million private sector jobs and 740,000 government jobs.

By industry, the largest number of job openings were in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector, a number of 1.3 million job openings compared to only 1.1 million unemployed job seekers in August who reported that their prior work experience was in that sector. The Education and Health Services and the Professional and Business Services sectors each had 1.2 million openings, but the numbers of unemployed job seekers from those sectors were 668,000 and 582,000 respectively.

Other sectors with more job openings than unemployed active job seekers whose prior experience was in the sector included Leisure and Hospitality sector (904,000 openings versus 728,000 unemployed from the sector, Construction (379,000 openings versus 361,000 unemployed), Financial Activities (365,000 openings versus 217,000 unemployed), and Information (130,000 openings versus 121,000 unemployed). The only sectors with fewer job openings in August than unemployed persons whose last job was in that sector were Manufacturing (384,000 openings versus 512,000 unemployed) and the “Other Services” sector, which includes a variety of personal services businesses, (203,000 openings versus 262,000 unemployed).

The comparative numbers “unemployed” above include only active job seekers who reported prior work experience. It does not include inexperienced new entrants to the labor market who may be seeking work in the listed industry sector, and it does not include “marginally attached” persons who want a job but are not currently active job seekers who meet the BLS “unemployed” definition.

The analysis reveals that the U.S. labor market today continues to be remarkably tighter than a decade ago, when there were approximately eight workers available for each open job. Over the almost 20-year history of available data, there have been an average of 2.9 workers for each open position. Said another way, employers looking to fill open positions are experiencing a labor market that’s nearly three times tighter than it has been on average over the last two decades and eight times tighter than it was 10 years ago.

In our dynamic labor market, workers are continually shifting between jobs or moving in and out of the market. Over on the employer side, jobs are continually being filled as new ones open up. Consequently, the individuals available for work and the jobs open are not the same from one month to the next, but the trend toward fewer available workers relative to the rising number of job openings shows, in broad terms, the increasing tightness of the labor market.

Of course, available workers vary in terms of experience, skills, and location, so they may not match the occupational, skill, location, and other needs associated with job openings. This “mismatch” problem becomes especially critical when the Worker Availability Ratio is relatively low, as it is currently.

The data draw attention to an important but overshadowed “gap” in the American workforce. While much attention has been given to the skills gap – that is, that too many people lack the skills they need to compete for jobs in today’s economy — our nation also faces a growing people gap — in other words, there simply are too few workers relative to the demand. To learn more about how the U.S. Chamber and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation are working to close the gaps in the American workforce, visit our Center for Education and Workforce.

War Chart 1 August 2019
War Chart 2 July 2019

The above charts show annualized monthly averages for each year


To calculate the Worker Availability Ratio, we first establish the total number of available workers by adding the total “unemployed” individuals (those who actively sought work that month) and the total “marginally attached” individuals (those who did not seek work that month but say they want and are available for work and have sought work in the past year), as reported monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We then divide the total “available workers” by the number of job openings, as reported in BLS’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS).

The data used in these calculations is all “not seasonally adjusted” because BLS does not publish seasonally adjusted estimates for the “marginally attached” series.

About the authors

Ronald Bird

Bird is a former senior economist specializing in regulatory economics at the Chamber. His work includes analyzing and evaluating estimates of regulations’ costs and benefits produced by the government to identify significant errors and omissions.