By Brian Sullivan, CNBC Correspondent
NEW YORK ( CNBC) --Want to add about $100 billion more annually to the U.S. economy and lower the unemployment rate by more than a percentage point -- all without spending a dime of taxpayer money? That's the hidden story of America's lousy jobs picture. Though there are more than 14 million unemployed, there are also 3.2 million job openings in America. While still just one opening for more than every four people looking for work, it begs the question of why there are any job openings at all given the huge number of unemployed.
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Job openings in trade, transportation and utilities went from 416,000 in July of 2010 to 778,000 this July. Listen to the radio and you can't go an hour without hearing an ad for companies looking for truck drivers. This phenomenon isn't just relegated to this downturn either. Government data shows anywhere from 2.4 million to 4 million open jobs nearly every month going back at least a decade. With an average worker contributing about $45,000 per year to GDP, just filling one third of job openings each year would have a massive positive impact on the economy, not only through increased economic output but the added purchasing power of the newly employed would help create an upward spiral of added consumer demand. As D.C. is learning, filling jobs is tough. And though the White House aggressively talked up job training as part of the stimulus plan, actual spending on training programs ended up as just a tiny percentage of the final $787 billion tally. Government can't or won't get this done effectively. Corporate America must step up. As Siemens' Solmssen said in our interview, he's going to be pushing his own internal training programs. Other companies must follow this example. Instead of relying on government to do it, companies should spend more of the billions they have on the books to build for smart, efficient programs to help train and retrain the workers of tomorrow. Larger companies could even help the smaller ones match talent to position by creating a kind of 'training job bank,' financed by partnerships among the largest consumer companies. Larger companies likely understand that the more people are working, the more money they'll have to spend on their products and it's in everyone's best interest to get more people back to work even if those workers don't work for them. My colleague Herb Greenberg calls it simply "train, don't complain." The other fix must come from the government: keep millions of teenagers from dropping out of high school. Each year more than 1 million kids drop out, effectively destroying their own economic prospects and resulting in a massive drag on America's economy. Not only do dropouts generally lack the skills to compete for even the most basic job, they also tend to cost society in other ways over their lifetimes. The Alliance for Excellent Education highlights the problem. It estimates that if the students who dropped out of the high school class of 2007 had graduated, it would add $329 billion to the U.S. economy over their lifetimes. Multiplying that $300 billion by a million-plus dropouts per year over just a few years quickly gets us to that magic $1 trillion dollar figure added to American GDP. Even simply cutting the number of dropouts in half can add significantly to the economy and lower unemployment. The jobless rate for dropouts is more than 4% more than those with a high-school diploma. Corporate America needs to spend to train the workers it needs. Washington needs to make sure those workers have the basic educational building block to ensure they can be trained. Everyone who wants a job should have one, and it's past the time for business and the Beltway to stop battling and get serious about filling a few of those three million open jobs. -- Written by Brian Sullivan, CNBC Correspondent