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Persistently high unemployment has its reasons

Students take part in their degree congregations as they graduate in Birmingham, England.

Jeremy Hobson: So how did we get to the point where our unemployment
rate is stubbornly stuck around 9 percent? Well, The Brookings Institution has a report out today looking at two competing theories.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: Suspend disbelief for a minute, and pretend a group of economists is partying hard and arguing. One economist spills his drink as he insists, "unemployment is high because there aren't enough jobs!" Another spits back, "there are jobs. But unemployed workers aren't educated enough to get them."

Brookings labor analyst Jonathan Rothwell could mediate at a party like this. He wrote the report Brookings released today and says both sides are right. A lot of workers lost their jobs between 2007 and 2009, and companies just aren't hiring them back. But he says for a long time now companies also haven't been able to find enough educated workers for the jobs they do have.

Jonathan Rothwell: I kind of think of it as a chronic illness that has plagued the economy for some time now. But is wasn't really noticed until we had a crisis.

Tim Bartik is a labor economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. He says the Brookings report gets it mostly right. He doesn't think education plays such a direct role in today's grim unemployment picture. But he says it is an underlying problem that has to be considered in any proposals to bring the jobless rate down.

Tim Bartik: There's not one simple policy solution that will solve a multitude of short-term and long-term economic problems.

Maybe with enough drinks those party-animal economists could hash out that kind of comprehensive strategy.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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