Education is dividing line in economic recovery

The CEO of Accelerate Diagnostics in Tucson, Ariz., is struggling to find qualified applicants.
The CEO of Accelerate Diagnostics in Tucson, Ariz., is struggling to find qualified applicants. CBS News

(CBS News) In the labs at Accelerate Diagnostics in Tucson, Ariz., the job is literally about life and death.

"Our business is all about treating hospital-acquired infections," says Larry Mehren, the CEO of the young biotech firm that is developing ways to rapidly diagnose those serious infections.

And his business is growing rapidly.

"We started off less than a year ago with three people," he says. "We now have 35, and we hope to double that again soon."

Accelerate Diagnostics CEO Larry Mehren
Accelerate Diagnostics CEO Larry Mehren CBS News

The U.S. economy is strengthening, adding an average of 208,000 jobs a month over the past six months.

"The private sector is generating jobs and also producing output growth of about three percent," says Wells Fargo economist John Silvia. "It's the public sector that's continuing to restructure and lose jobs."

And education has been a dividing line in the recovery. While well over two million jobs have been added in the past year for workers with at least some college education, for workers with a high school degree or less, more than half a million jobs have been lost.

"We're hiring scientists, engineers, people with deep mathematical backgrounds," Mehren says.

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But Mehren says he can't find enough qualified applicants.

"If you look at our website, we have six or seven jobs that are going wanting," he says. "I mean, literally, I spent time on LinkedIn today looking for the kinds of people that this company needs."

Below: Economic upswing still facing headwinds, Anthony Mason reports.

Economic upswing still facing headwinds

Mehren says people with the required skills "are few and far between."

"The economy is not creating the kinds of workers that we need to move into the future," he says. "And, you know, I think that's a challenge for all of us and something we should examine."

The unemployment rate for college graduates is 3.9 percent. For high school graduates it's 7.4 percent. That spread has narrowed slightly since the end of the recession, but it's still stark.

There are still about 11 million people unemployed after the great recession, and the job growth numbers released Friday mean we're making slow progress, but it's not fast enough. We lost 8.8 million jobs in the recession, and we've made 6.8 million back. Plus, the population has grown in that time, so we're fighting a strong headwind on a couple of fronts.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"