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Small businesses struggle with record worker shortage

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 11:04 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama has a record number of jobs available but employers are struggling to find people to work.

Cara’s Café in Wetumpka just opened its second location in the town of Pike Road, and employee Michael Forsley said the family-owned business has big plans for the new place, but they are struggling to find people to hire.

“I’ve been in this town for about 10 years and just can’t find anybody to work,” Forsley said. “Right now I think we’re staffed with about three to four people for a place with a capacity of 113.”

Cara’s Café is not alone, a new report released by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) shows a record 44% of small business owners being unable to fill open positions in April. That percentage is 22 points higher than NFIB’s 48-year historical average, and two points higher than March’s 42% figure.

In Montgomery, “now hiring” and “help wanted” signs can be found all over the city. NFIB State Director Rosemary Elebash said the worker shortage right now is alarming, and it’s not just happening in large cities.

“If you want a job, you can find a job,” Elebash said.

“When you talk about businesses that are having to adjust their hours because they don’t have employees, I just don’t think we’ve ever seen that before. We’ve been through recessions where people were struggling to look for a job, but now you’ve got employees struggling to find workers, so this is a reverse from what we’ve seen over the decades and it’s highly unusual,” Elebash went on to say.

According to the new NFIB report, April is the third consecutive month with a record number of unfilled job openings among small businesses. Elebash said several factors amid the pandemic contribute to the shortage, like parents still needing to stay home with their children, fear of the coronavirus, and enhanced unemployment benefits.

Elebash predicts that if the historically high numbers continue, it could have major impacts on the state’s tax collections.

“We’ve maintained good budgets in Alabama, both budgets have passed, but as you see the shortage of workers, as you see businesses reducing their hours, you’re going to see a reduction in tax collections because if you’re not open you’re not selling and that’s going to be an impact,” Elebash said. “I don’t know that we’ll see it until probably the fourth quarter, but likely it’s going to have an impact if these historically high percentages maintain through not only this quarter but the third quarter.”

Overall, the report said 59% of small business owners reported hiring or trying to hire in April, up three points from March’s reading. The report also went on to say that owners have plans to fill open positions with a seasonally adjusted net 21% planning to create new jobs in the next three months.

For the small businesses that are open, like Cara’s, they can only hope they get the manpower they need to keep the doors open.

“Please come on down, we need your help,” Forsley said.

The American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March extended the $300 bonus checks for unemployed workers until Sept. 6. Elebash says by the fourth quarter, Alabama will be able to assess the impact the worker shortage has had on the state with that in mind.

“I would just encourage people that this is an opportunity for you, maybe you haven’t been trained before but there’s a real opportunity for you now to start not only with a job, but possibly a career,” Elebash said.

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