The shortage of qualified workers reached a record high in December, and the number of small business owners who made plans to raise compensation was the second highest in history, according to the most recent monthly National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Jobs Report.

“We’ve been watching this problem build for the last 12 months, but it seems to have reached a critical point in December,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan in a statement. “Small business owners are converting their optimism into action, and a majority cannot find enough workers to meet higher customer demand.”

State-specific data is unavailable, but NFIB State Director Ben Homeyer said SC’s small-business owners are concerned about the shallow pool of qualified applicants.

“One of the ways we gauge our members’ position on key issues is through our Member Ballot,” Homeyer said. “This year’s survey showed strong support for legislation that would make it easier for certain nonviolent offenders to enter the job market.”

When NFIB asked its SC members asked whether the state should allow for the expungement of criminal records for one-time, nonviolent offenders, 60.9% of respondents said yes, 32.7% said no, and 6.4% were undecided.

H3209, which is now in the Senate, would expunge certain crimes, such as nonviolent drug offenses, from people’s records to improve their workforce eligibility. “It doesn’t help anyone to lock out people who have turned themselves around and are trying to move on with their lives,” Homeyer said.

In the upcoming legislative session, NFIB will also support:

  • H3311, also in the Senate, would help with workforce development pathways and identify and help with training to get more folks in the needed pipelines.
  • The Be Pro Be Proud program, which strives to get kids early to look at the careers such as a CDL driver or home builder that offer good pay and require less than a college degree. “Capturing the interest of these folks early gets them in line to succeed as soon as they graduate high school and put them on a path to productivity,” Homeyer said.

Nationwide, the number of job openings remained steady in December while plans to hire fell four points to 20%. That modest decline could indicate that small business owners are becoming more frustrated by the shortage of qualified workers.

“Finding qualified workers is now the second biggest concern for small business owners,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Taxes occupied the top spot all of last year, but that may drop as the recently enacted tax reform law takes effect. The worker shortage could very well become the number-one problem for small businesses.”

Fifty-four percent of small business owners last month reported finding few or no qualified workers. That’s a 10-point jump from the previous month and an all-time record. The previous record (53%) was September of 1999. Meanwhile, the number of firms planning to raise compensation jumped six points to 23%, the second highest reading in history. It’s the highest reading since March of 2000 (also 23%) and just shy of the record of 27%, set in December of 1989.

The labor shortage is a problem for small business owners, but it is also a strong signal that the economy is gaining momentum.

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