A 'now hiring' sign is viewed in the window of a fast food restaurant in New York City.
A 'now hiring' sign is viewed in the window of a fast food restaurant in New York City. - 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job vacancies is back to where it was before the recession. In May, there were some 4.6 million open positions.

You might think that has to be good news for out-of-work Americans, but hiring is still moving slowly. “The mean duration of U.S. job vacancies rose to 25.1 working days in May,” the Dice-DFH Vacancy Duration Measure reports. 

A lot of experts blame this on something called “the skills gap.” Since 2007, there has been this narrative, that employers aren’t hiring, or they are taking their time hiring, because they can’t find enough qualified candidates.

“The skills mismatch is kind of like the zombie explanation of the labor market that just won’t go away,” says Sylvia Allegretto, with the Institute for Research on Labor & Employment.

It is true that, during the downturn, employers could be choosy if they chose to hire at all, but the economy has improved, the unemployment rate has been coming down steadily, and Allegretto says that is not because all of a sudden people have all the right skills.

“If we had severe mismatches throughout the labor market, we would be seeing more wage growth than we are seeing,” says Barry Hirsch, W.J. Usery Chair of the American Workplace at Georgia State University. Qualified workers would be able to demand more money, and employers would have to meet that demand.

There is a bigger reason why hiring is not happening faster, according to Matt Freedman, an associate professor of economics at Cornell University: “Employers still have a lot of lingering uncertainty about the durability of this recovery.” 

They’re cautious, and Freedman says, there is no reason for them to hurry. 

“There is little cost to posting a vacancy, but potentially a lot of upside if you can find a really qualified person who is willing to work for you for very little money.”

For employers, that may be something worth waiting for. 

Follow David Gura at @davidgura