Record-high number of owners report that they cannot to fill open positions
NFIB’s monthly jobs report contained some good news for small businesses still trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also revealed record-high levels of difficulty in finding qualified employees.
In NFIB’s monthly Small Business Economic Trends (SBET) jobs report, 42% of owners reported that they could not fill open job positions. This is a troubling number: in December of last year, 32% of owners reported the same, meaning that the number of owners who can’t fill open positions has skyrocketed since the beginning of 2021. The March number is almost double the 48-year historical average of 22%.
People staying out of the workforce is harming small businesses’ ability to hire. NFIB member and jewelry business owner Melissa Anderson shared in a recent Bloomberg.com article, that she laid off all three of her employees at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. When her business began to recover, she tried to rehire them – but they refused to return. “They’re not looking for work,” Melissa said.
“We have 29 locations across Iowa and Nebraska, and ever since we reopened last summer, it’s been very difficult to bring people back into the open positions. In fact, we’re starting to hear from customers who are angry because we don’t always have enough staff to serve them,” said NFIB member Jerry. He added, “Right now, we could use nearly 40 new people and we can’t fill the jobs quickly enough. It’s a mix of reasons but because of the extended and enhanced unemployment compensation and COVID-related issues, it’s easy for people to not work but still get paid.”
In March, about one-quarter (24%) of business owners identified labor quality as the biggest problem facing their business – making it the most commonly cited issue. Labor quality significantly outpaced problems like taxes (the biggest problem according to 17% of respondents) and government regulations (14% of respondents).
“Main Street is doing better as state and local restrictions are eased, but finding qualified labor is a critical issue for small businesses nationwide,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Small business owners are competing with the pandemic and increased unemployment benefits that are keeping some workers out of the labor force. However, owners remain determined to hire workers and grow their business.”
More small businesses are raising and planning to raise wages to attract and retain qualified employees.