US News, in its long, sad decline from once-relevant journalism enterprise to assembler of gimmicky clickbait slideshows, has a listicle about the “100 best jobs of 2013.” It’s interesting not for the content exactly—with 100 jobs, it includes pretty much every common job, including cashier, janitor, construction worker, and telemarketer. Like all their lists, it’s shot through with dubious assumptions, but this one particularly misses the forest for the trees.

The overwhelming fact about the US labor market is the continued unemployment crisis, only slightly alleviated by the grindingly slow recovery. Take a look at the unemployment rate for prime working-age adults (courtesy of Paul Krugman):

For the average person, the continuing presence of mass unemployment is by far the most important factor determining whether or not they get a job. Interestingly, the introduction to the listicle even nods to this fact:

But when assessing job creation versus employment over a lengthier span, it’s troubling to note that this country is still stumbling to offer jobs that workers are qualified to fill. “Employment in the United States is only about 2 percent higher than it was in January of 2000. In that period of time, our work-eligible population has grown by 15 percent. When you look at it that way, there’s something awry,” says Patrick O’Keefe, the director of economic research at the firm Cohn-Reznick and the former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Labor.

The “stumbling to offer jobs that workers are qualified to fill” line is a silly nod to the structural unemployment theory, which continues to be wrong, but it gets the basic situation correct. Lots of people looking for jobs, not enough to go around. But the very next graf fails to grasp the implication of that fact:

In other words, it will take both careful research and preparation to enter any job worth having these days. This is why every year U.S. News gathers a list of the Best Jobs, so that you can assess which occupation could be a good fit, then plan properly to make sure you’re qualified to enter it.

The unfortunate truth is that there is no way that any individual person can plan themselves out of the implications of mass unemployment. Next year, what kind of jobs will be available, and far more importantly, how many, depend on the policy actions taken by first the Federal Reserve and second by Congress. The Fed has been actually quite aggressive about job creation lately, but Congress not so much. Will our government deliberately kneecap the recovery for no reason? Hard to say for sure, but US News isn’t mentioning that possibility.

I’m not saying that their list is totally useless. It does include a lot of probably safe-bet occupations, like dentistry and nursing. But it would be nice to see this kind of list make it clear that the broad mass of job seekers are at the mercy of policymakers.


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Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanlcooper. Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The Nation.