Online Job Listings Aren't Always What They Seem

By most accounts, the U.S. job market is in feeble shape, having hemorrhaged more than 4 million jobs in 2009 alone. There's not much reason to hope things will turn around anytime soon.

So how do you explain all those online job postings?

The Conference Board regularly trolls through job Web sites like and, counting the number of jobs advertised and eliminating old or redundant postings.

As of a week ago, it said employers had posted some 3.4 million job postings at various career Web sites, and since many postings listed more than one position, the actual number of available jobs is even higher than that, says Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein.

That's about half the number of jobs that have been lost since the start of this recession in December 2007, enough to employ a huge chunk of the millions of people who've lost their jobs.

But for a variety of reasons, the numbers aren't quite what they seem, Goldstein says. Part of that is because of the economy's natural churn factor.

"We have a very dynamic labor market all the time," Goldstein says. "There are always people moving into a job, moving out of a job [and] looking to move out of a job."

Even in a bad recession like this one, some new jobs are being created all the time, but they are fewer than the number of people looking for work, he says.

"It's the friction between supply and demand, between the supply of available jobs and the number of people looking for one. That's what has changed, and changed dramatically," Goldstein says.

For other reasons as well, the labor market is a lot less healthy than you might think if you surf the Web.

For one thing, many of those 3.4 million jobs require specialized training that most job hunters lack.

Michelle Choina of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was laid off last spring, says she's had trouble finding the kind of administrative job she's looking for. Many of the jobs she sees online are in medical fields, but she'd have to go back to school to qualify for them.

Many jobs that get posted are in distant places and require the applicant to relocate. Employers aren't always willing to pay moving expenses, especially for low-income workers, says Rathin Sinha, president of America's Job Exchange, a career Web site.

"Some of these jobs are not really on the high end of the wage scale and so if somebody has to move most likely they have to do it on their own," Sinha says.

The high unemployment rate has also created something of an employer's market, he says. Rather than picking someone from the applications they receive, many companies now have the time and leverage to search for the perfect candidate for a job.

When they do go looking for that candidate, they are likely to post ads online to find him or her, Sinha says. That's one reason career Web sites are filled with jobs, but it's a function of weakness in the job market, not strength.



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