In recession periods in the mid-1970s and early '80s, employers didn't lay off as many workers as declining consumer demand suggested they could. In 2001 and 2008, by contrast, employers felt an imperative to keep their per-worker productivity from falling – and the result was deeper layoffs.
Still, labor-market experts point out that workplace flexibility has its benefits as well as challenges. The upside for employers includes being more nimble and focused. It's typical for a firm now to have a core permanent staff – among its most highly valued assets – surrounded by a flexible workforce.
For workers of both types, the current environment includes greater freedom (the opportunity to work at home, for instance) and often good pay as well.
Some types of workplace adaptability can hold advantages even during downturns. Susan Lund of the McKinsey Global Institute notes that Germany has survived the global downturn better than the US, in part because many of its companies reduced work hours instead of cutting so many jobs.
As a result, consumer activity in Germany didn't plunge as sharply.
2 The résumé gap
To say that a lack of job skills is part of the employment problem sounds like blaming workers for their own predicament, at a time when many jobless Americans have both skills and a willingness to retrain.
But some economists argue that this is an important part of the jobs conundrum. And the issue really isn't about blame, but about helping workers, schools, and businesses connect better. If they do, more new jobs and even new industries will be created in the US, rather than overseas or not at all.
Even in the current weak economy, employers say a good number of jobs are going unfilled because companies aren't finding skilled workers.