Jul 15, 2021 - 10:45am

Less than Half of Small Business Owners Can Find Workers, New Poll Shows


Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications

As America continues to reopen, small business optimism about hiring prospects are muted, as an equal number say they are either more optimistic or more pessimistic compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a poll on workforce issues taken June 16–23, 2021 and released this week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife.

In fact, most small businesses have not yet begun to look for new talent: Just one in three small businesses (33%) report they have actively sought, recruited, or interviewed new workers this year. What’s more, most small businesses are struggling to find workers with the right combination of skills and experience. Less than half of small businesses who are actively hiring report that it is easy to find candidates that meet certain criteria such as: finding candidates in their area (47%), with the experience they need (44%), and the skills they need (44%).

“Small businesses are bearing the brunt of the current worker shortage. Many have given up on actively recruiting new workers as its too hard to find skilled and experienced workers for their open positions,” said Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “To enable small businesses to grow, compete, and thrive coming out of the pandemic, we need our government leaders to make it as easy as possible for Main Street to find and hire the talent they need.”

The data backs up anecdotal evidence many of us are seeing this summer as businesses reopen and we venture out more. It quickly become apparent that there are more jobs than people to fill them. A case in point is the boardwalk in Rehoboth, Delaware, which is speckled with “Help Wanted” signs as small, independent businesses in that tourism-dependent town struggle to find and hire workers to simply survive what should be the most prosperous season of the year.  

“I don't have any help,” says Tom Ibach runs Dolle’s Candyland on the boardwalk and whose son has started coming in early to help his father make candy. “It's a terrible situation. It's going to be very, very difficult with a skeleton staff.”

It’s often medium-sized small businesses—such as local restaurants, bars, or Main Street retailers—which are more likely to struggle to find new workers, especially those with the right skills and experience. Forty-eight percent of small businesses with 5-19 employees say it was hard to find enough candidates to fill open positions. Additionally, 44% of these sized businesses said it was hard to find candidates with the needed experience and 41% of them said it was hard to find workers with the right skills.   

“We are so desperate for workers that if 15 people showed up at our front door tomorrow morning with work boots on and a willingness to landscape, we’d give them the keys to a truck and put them right to work,” said Ian MacLean, President of Highland Landscaping LLC in Southlake, Texas and Chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council.

The worker shortage and lack of active recruitment are having effects on small business workflow. Of those actively hiring and reporting at least some difficulty finding new workers, the most common response (54%) was that the business owner had to personally work more hours or take on more roles. Forty-two percent of those reporting difficulty had to ask staff to work overtime or longer hours, and 31% of them reported difficulty with scheduling because they did not have enough staff. 

“Workforce shortages are beginning to negatively impact our business. We are running lean, due to rising costs of supplies and the inability to find qualified and willing employees,” said Joe Shamess, Co-Founder, Flags of Valor in Winchester, Virginia. “The difficulty in hiring is an added cost because of the time devoted to finding talent and widespread wage inflation. And what’s worse is the lack of new employees is starting to negatively impact team morale.”

To address the worker shortage, the U.S. Chamber started its America Works campaign to help employers across the country develop and discover the talent they need. The campaign includes workforce training programs, policy solutions, and research and analysis to help America’s workers and employers by closing the skills gap, growing our country’s workforce, and keeping our economy strong.

Future Outlook

Most small business owners still anticipate the bounce back from the pandemic will not be sudden, but will require several more months. The majority of small business owners (55%) think the U.S. small business climate will return to normal in six months to a year. Only 27% think the climate will return to normal in under six months. However, the desire to open is there, with around three in five small businesses (59%) saying it is likely they will fully open as soon as their state allows it—if they haven’t done so already.  

After the pandemic, small businesses are planning a mix of tactics to lure back workers including increased pay and new benefits. About a quarter each plan to find new ways to advertise (26%) or to increase pay (24%). Also, 22% of small businesses plan to offer more flexible working hours and 21% planning to offer a hybrid or remote work environment.


To learn how the U.S. Chamber is working to help companies and our country address the workforce shortage, visit uschamber.com/america-works.  

For more findings from this quarter, please visit https://www.uschamber.com/sbindex/.

Throughout 2021, MetLife and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will release two special pulse reports, online surveys of approximately 500 small business owners. This is the first of the two reports.

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About the Author

About the Author

Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications

Thaddeus is a senior writer and editor with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's strategic communications team.