(The Center Square) – From construction to fast food, small businesses across Pennsylvania are grappling with a worker shortage, an industry representative said recently, leading to exacerbated financial challenges for owners trying to regain a solid footing more than a year after COVID-19’s onset.

Greg Moreland, who serves as director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ Pennsylvania chapter, said he has been hearing from small businesses in a cross-section of industries about the challenges of filling vacant positions.

“I think staffing is a huge issue, across the board,” Moreland said in an interview with The Center Square. “I don’t think there are many industries that say, ‘We have absolutely no problems with staffing at this time.’”

Moreland’s comments come on the heels of NFIB’s new April jobs report, indicating 44 percent of small businesses across the U.S. have been unable to fill open jobs. The new report represents a higher increase in the growing challenge; in March, 42 percent of respondents reported an inability to fill open positions.

Within Pennsylvania, Moreland said the statistics across many small business industries are higher than national averages.

“Pennsylvania has been one of the states that has put more restrictions on these industries than some of our other states,” Moreland said.

The reason for the labor shortage, as has been widely reported, is a confluence of factors, including continued supplemental unemployment benefits to the tune of $300 per week from the federal government under President Joe Biden’s administration.

NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said there are other competing circumstances in the mix as well, including the ongoing rollout of vaccines and continued challenges with parents contending with child care-related issues.

“Many small business owners who are trying to hire are finding themselves unsuccessful and are having to delay the hiring or offer higher wages,” Dunkelberg said in a statement. “Some owners are offering ‘show up’ bonuses for workers who agree to take the job and actually show up for work.”

The challenges within Pennsylvania come at a time when Gov. Tom Wolf has announced loosened restrictions at month’s end. Other than continued calls for mask wearing, many of the COVID-19 safeguards that had been in place are being lifted.

“We, as an organization, welcome that news,” Moreland said. “But the problem that we’re facing, and what we’re hearing, from businesses is that regardless of what percentage you allow them to open at, if they can’t fill their staffing needs, they can’t open fully.”

While there have been an assortment of grants and federal programs to assist small businesses in the past year, Moreland said there have been mounting concerns about Pennsylvania’s small businesses, which collectively employ about 2 million people.

“There’s been little predictability in the last 15 months,” Moreland said. “For far too many businesses, the nail is already in the coffin, and they’ve already closed their doors or they’re contemplating closing their doors.”

On a national scale, NFIB reported 8 percent of survey respondents cited labor costs as their greatest challenge. An additional 24 percent cited labor quality as the top overall concern.

Across the country, NFIB estimates 37 percent of small businesses have openings for skilled workers, and an additional 20 percent have a need for unskilled labor.

Dave Fidlin is a contributor for The Center Square.

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