Is the hunt for the ‘purple squirrel’ stalling job growth?

Have you ever seen a purple squirrel?

Probably not. But rest assured it’s better to be than see one.

“Purple squirrel” is a term headhunters use to describe that perfectly qualified, slam-dunk job candidate.

I learned that interesting fact in a recent New York Times story that conveyed some distressing news.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Going on four years since Wall Street melted down, thousands of American companies still aren’t hiring perfectly good candidates into jobs that the companies need done and have money to pay for. Instead, they hunt purple squirrels.

It’s like a massive case of post traumatic stress disorder.

On one level, it’s classically neurotic behavior: Firms post jobs, call hot prospects back for multiple interviews, then get cold feet, delay the hire, repost the job, then call the same folks back for more interviews.

And … still don’t hire.

Yet I must concede that, looked at another way, this is rational behavior.

Many of these firms are making solid profits with the workforces they have. Productivity is up. Why? Well, in part thanks to technology, and efficiencies it offers.

And in part because scared workers nowadays utter barely a beep about shouldering increased workloads for static compensation.

Beyond that, the grievous circus known as Washington, D.C., keeps sowing seeds of uncertainty about where fiscal policy is headed.  And employers hate uncertainty.

What get employers to move past their PTSD and actually hire someone?

In this novel set of circumstances. It’s hard to see how old nostrums help.

Trim the deficit? Definitely needed for the nation’s long-term fiscal fitness, but not much of a cure for the immediate problem. When deficits harm hiring, it’s mostly because they’re inflating the cost of capital. But interest rates are at historic lows, so that hardly seems to be the impediment.

Tax cuts? Any company will pocket them and say, “Thanks,” it’s not a lack of cash that seems to be discouraging hiring. It’s a lack of demand.

Ahh, demand.  So what about the Keynesian fix, more government spending?

It would no doubt help boost demand to put more buying power into the hands of the struggling middle class. But we’re too far into the red to do that willy-nilly. We can’t just fling money at the economy; it has to be well-targeted.

And our Congress is too divided, and too, well, dumb to pull that off effectively.

Folks, I have no solutions. Just letting you know how it looks, as I sit on the porch waiting for the next purple squirrel to scamper by.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal