Can JPMorgan help find jobs for all the branch staff it’s laying off?

Yesterday, JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon announced that the world's largest bank -- with its share price at record highs, despite paying out around $20 billion in settlements to regulators -- would be cutting loose 2,000 more people at its bank branches, on top of the 5,500 that got pink slips last year. Overall, it expects to have 20 percent fewer people staffing its storefronts than it did in 2011, as consumers get more used to automated banking services and not as many take out mortgages.

It's not just JPMorgan. This year, banks closed more branches than ever and kept squeezing the number of people required to staff each one. It's actually a pretty quick reversal, given the long run-up in branch openings that halted only as banks merged and began to consolidate their retail operations. And it's leading to the demise of a profession that used to be an intro to the white-collar life:

Bank tellerdom: Not long for this world. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Bank tellerdom: Not long for this world. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Miraculously, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that bank teller job losses will level off going forward, registering essentially zero growth over the next 10 years. But that's still quite a few people who'll need to find new employment. Perhaps sensitive to the problem it's helping to create, as one of its image-burnishing philanthropic initiatives, JPMorgan announced in December it's going to put $250 million into solving what's popularly known as the "skills gap" -- 4 million job vacancies in the United States and some 11 million people still unemployed. The initiative came with op-eds, a panel discussion, and pretty videos like this one explaining the concept in first-grade terms:

Labor economists call this problem a lack "matching efficiency": When people seem to be having trouble finding the available jobs. Matching efficiency declined dramatically after the Great Recession, which might have to do with stigma against the long-term unemployed, or a massive geographical mismatch between where people are and where people are needed. That's true even with financial jobs, even though they bounced back a bit, as the New York Fed illuminated in a recent study:

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Still, the Fed economists concluded that the biggest reason people aren't able to find jobs is...the lack of jobs. "While the efficiency of the U.S. labor market has not yet recovered, the most important factor is still the low vacancy-to-unemployment ratio," they wrote.

To further illuminate what's going on here, what are the 4 million jobs that Dimon says are going unfilled? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they're mostly in mining and logging, nondurable goods manufacturing, wholesale trade, professional and business services, and accommodation and food services. Three of those fields, as we noted yesterday, don't pay all that well. And as both journalist Adam Davidson and Wharton professor of management Peter Capelli explained a while ago, when people can't make a living on the kind of jobs they'd need training to get, they're less likely to go through the trouble.

Take for example 24-year-old Kyle Higgins of Smyrna, Tenn. He started as a temporary worker for a staffing agency that places people at the Nissan plant in town. He says he worked every single day for four and a half months during a particularly busy period, because he needed the $10 an hour paycheck to support his infant daughter. He'd get there at 6:30 a.m., and leave 12 hours later, in whatever job on the line was necessary as temps came and left. After two years of that, without landing a full-time job with benefits at Nissan -- which can pay $25 an hour, for those fortunate enough to have gotten jobs there years ago -- he quit. "People get in there, see what it's like, and leave," Higgins says.

Since then, he says, he's gotten an HVAC license and an auto mechanic certification, but even those jobs require a few years experience. "People who've been doing it for longer than I've been alive get all the jobs," he says. "A guy can do an hour job and make what I make in a day." So he's learning how to become a cut hair and hopes to start his own barbershop. Otherwise, the options are slim.

"They got the Coca-Cola plant, a couple warehouses, but other than that, if you don't want to flip burgers for the rest of your life, Smyrna really isn't the place," Higgins says. "It's growing every day, but it's growing in fast-food places and movie theaters, like high school jobs, not career jobs."

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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