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Small-business owners: We want to hire, but we just can't find 'qualified' workers

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 5/14/2019 Jeffry Bartash
CAPITOL REPORT
a car parked on a city street: Small businesses in the Mexicantown neighborhood of Southwest Detroit. © Bloomberg News/Landov Small businesses in the Mexicantown neighborhood of Southwest Detroit.

Is there really a shortage of skilled workers available for hire? Small-business owners certainly seem to think so. They say they want to add workers, but it’s darn near impossible.

Is there really a shortage of skilled workers available for hire? Small-business owners certainly seem to think so.

Some 24% of small-business owners said finding qualified workers is their single biggest problem, according to an April survey by the National Federation of Independent Business. That’s just one point below a record high.

Nearly three-fifths of the small businesses surveyed last month said they hired or tried to hire more workers, but 86% reported “few or no qualified applicants for positions they were trying to fill,” the NFIB said.

Some economists contend the complaints about a skills gap is overstated and that companies could find more workers if they boosted pay and benefits.

Yet the NFIB counters that the rate of increase in compensation is already near a record high among small-business owners. The small-business lobbying group has been conducting its survey since 1973. Governments statistics show that compensation is increasing at the fastest pace in a decade.

Read: The monster clash between U.S., China over trade dwarfs all other issues about the economy 

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 50-year low of 3.6% last month and the rate of layoffs each week briefly dipped below 200,000 for the first time since 1969, reflecting an extremely tight labor market.

a close up of a map

On the other hand, a smaller share of Americans are in the labor force now compared to a decade ago, including those in the prime working years of 25 to 54.

Some but not all of the people who dropped out of the labor force during or after the Great Recession of 2007-2009 have reentered. Even if more were to rejoin, though, they would need retraining to burnish skills eroded by their long stints on the sidelines.

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