WASHINGTON, D.C. — Social media giant Facebook is now a “friend” of the U.S. Department of Labor, and the two parties believe millions of America’s Facebook users will “like” the new Social Jobs Partnership page they set up to help people find work.
“This is wonderful,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, speaking Thursday in one of the conference rooms at the U.S. Department of Labor headquarters to announce the new partnership.
“It’s all about getting people to work and making connections,” Solis said, holding her thumb up like the thumbs-up emoticon on Facebook toward the end of her remarks. “Landing on this page can help Americans land good jobs.”
Solis was joined by Marne Levine, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy and former chief of staff at the White House National Economic Council.
“We’re not going to limit ourselves to what’s possible today,” Levine said. “We’re going to invest in research, more social technologies and find new ways to find jobs online.”
“Our labor market is changing, and so should the tools being used to find jobs,” Levine said.
Labor economists, however, were reluctant to give the new Social Jobs Partnership a thumbs up, and said enthusiasts of the Facebook partnership must face a harsh reality about the limitations of online social networks’ ability to make a dent in the unemployment rates.
“I don’t see how simply putting (job listings) on Facebook is going to change anything,” said Dr. David Card, an economics professor at the University of California Berkeley and president of the Society of Labor Economists.
“Even if everybody was able to fill every single job they posted on Facebook tomorrow, that will only impact the number of unemployed by a quarter,” Card said.
The unemployment rate in the United States has essentially hovered between 9 percent and 10 percent since May 2009. There are about 14 million unemployed persons throughout the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Realistically, I think that this is really fun and exciting for 24-year-olds who spend all their time on Facebook anyway,” Card said of the new Social Jobs Partnership page. “But I think for a guy looking for a job in trucking, it might help a little bit but it’s not gonna be a big deal.”
Dr. Devin Pope, assistant professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, voiced similar skepticism.
Pope based his skepticism on a research paper he did that sought to establish a link between job postings on Craigslist and the unemployment rate and the rental market. The paper — currently under review by the Journal of Labor Economics — is titled “Does Online Search Crowd Out Traditional Search and Improve Matching Efficiency? Evidence from Craigslist.”
The paper found that Craigslist growth between 2005 and 2007 was correlated with rental vacancy declines during the same period, but “no evidence that a correlation between Craigslist growth and unemployment rates exists.”
Pope said the main thing that online platforms can do is speed up the matching process.
“Our research at least suggests that online platforms can potentially help matching markets,” Pope said. “While we don’t find a lot of it in the job market, we do find a bit of it in the rental market.”
Louis Soares, director of the Postsecondary Education Program at the Center for American Progress, said research about online market intermediaries is “fairly clear that it increases the volume of information exchange but not necessarily in the labor market.”
“Or when it does,” Soares said, “it tends to be for highly-educated people.”
Soares also said researchers have expressed concern that more and more information online puts job-seekers at a disadvantage to employers who are interested in learning all they can about job candidates and using a technology to find it out cheaply — something that Facebook facilitates by enabling users to constantly update their status, post photographs and show conversations and remarks between “friends.”
He said the use of social media in recruiting seems to offer the best matching when it is tightly linked with occupational or industry specific groups such as union or professional organizations.
Partners in the new Social Jobs Partnership expressed optimism over the site’s ability to connect job-seekers to jobs.
Besides Facebook and the Department of Labor, the other partners are the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, the Direct Employers Association, which represents some 90,000 employers, and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE.
Marylin Mackes, executive director of NACE, said the new Social Jobs Partnership page will help college graduates find work.
She noted that more than 90 percent of today’s college students have a Facebook page, and that the number of students and employers using social media to search for jobs has been steadily increasing each year.
She also noted that 80 percent of career centers on college campuses have Facebook pages.
“These pages are helping educate and prepare students for the world of work,” Mackes said.
The Social Jobs Partnership page is expected to have jobs that appeal to job-seekers with a wide range of education levels, from high school dropouts to Ph.D.s.
“The variance is huge,” said Bonnie Elsey, president of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Most of the jobs, however, will require a credential and one or two years of post-secondary education.
“It really mirrors our population in terms of the jobs that are available,” Elsey said. “There [are] jobs for everybody.”
The website also will connect users to a variety of existing Department of Labor websites meant to help America’s jobless and provide information that ranges from anticipated salaries to retired skills, such as myskillsmyfuture.org, mynextmove.org, and careeronestop.org.
The page is envisaged as holding information of interest not only to employers and job seekers, but job counselors as well.
Facebook’s Levine said, “Be sure to hit the ‘Like’ button to start receiving information.”