Alfonso Arpaia and Alessandro Turrini have evaluated a measure of such mismatch for some 22 European countries. Thie results show that the efficiency with which unemployed workers are matched with jobs fell in most of these countries quite soon after the economic crisis hit.
There are some interesting exceptions - efficiency has risen inexorably in Denmark. This may be the result of the 'flexicurity' of the labour market in that country - a system where extremely high degrees of job mobility are accompanied by a robust system of social security and active labour market policies. In Romania, too, matching efficiency has risen with just a bit of a flattening out in recent years. In many countries - especially those in Eastern Europe - the fall in matching efficiency followed a sharp peak, itself probably the result of introducing more liberal labour market policies following transition.
In the UK, the efficiency of matching fell sharply with the recession, and has not recovered since. Arpaia and Turrini's findings suggest that a high incidence of long term unemployment is one of the major factors underpinning this fall in efficiency. And in the UK, long term unemployment has risen markedly since the recession. At the end of 2007, there were 383000 workers who had been unemployed for over a year; although the number fell markedly in the last quarter of last year, there are now some 845000.
It would be easy, but facile, to contend that, with the unemployment rate falling rapidly, the labour market is functioning well. (It is in some respects, and is not in others.) For the market to maintain the flexibility that is needed, the matching of workers to jobs should be as efficient as possible. While long term unemployment rates remain high, this will not happen. Just as in the 1980s - when Richard Layard and others argued in favour of helping the long term unemployed back to work because doing so would not add to inflationary pressure - helping these workers now is an imperative. There is more to Denmark than good TV.