Labor shortage may get worse before improving, NABE survey

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A worker shortage plaguing businesses across the country could get worse before it begins improving, according to a new survey released Monday.

Conducted by the National Association for Business Economics, the survey shows that a majority of the group's members expect the labor shortage to last until at least next year, with 18% of respondents predicting it will last until at least 2022 and 10% projecting it may not abate until 2023. Just 6% of respondents said they expect the shortage to stop in 2021.

At the same time, a greater share of respondents reported a shortage of skilled labor in July, with 32% saying they had struggled to onboard new employees – an increase from April, when 29% reported difficulty in hiring.

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The Chamber of Commerce has warned the worker shortage poses the biggest threat to the economy's still-nascent recovery from the coronavirus pandemic after the government reported that the U.S. had a little more than 9.2 million vacant job openings in May, a record-shattering number despite the 9.3 million unemployed Americans.

For comparison's sake, before the pandemic shut down broad swaths of the nation's economy, there were roughly 7 million available jobs.

"While some skills mismatches remain, the major problem is that the available workers are reluctant to go back to work, whether because of lingering COVID-19 concerns, childcare issues, or generous government benefits," Chamber economist Curtis Dubay wrote in a recent blog post.

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The NABE survey comes in light of the Labor Department's June payroll report, which revealed the economy added just 855,000 jobs last month, topping the 700,000 predicted by Refinitiv economists.

While it marked a major uptick from May and April – the economy added a combined 852,000 positions, raising concerns among some GOP lawmakers and other critics that out-of-work Americans were choosing to stay home and collect unemployment benefits rather than return to the workforce – economists have said it could take years for the economy to reach full employment.

In response to lackluster hiring, 26 states, nearly all of them led by Republican governors, announced plans to prematurely end one of three pandemic relief programs that provided an extra $300 a week in aid and extended benefits to contract workers and individuals who had exhausted state aid. 

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At least four states have announced plans to provide low-income workers with a financial incentive to return to work. 

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