Thaddeus Swanek Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications

Published

October 29, 2021

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Our nation’s economy relies on the over 32 million small businesses that create jobs and provide essential services to communities across the country. This year, small business owners have faced challenges not only navigating the pandemic, but also finding the workers they need, making sure the workers they do have stay safe and healthy, and protecting the health of customers too.

The U.S. Chamber and MetLife developed the State of the Workforce report to poll small business owners on how they are feeling right now about these challenges. The latest poll, taken September 30 – October 7, 2021, revealed that small business owners are finding it more challenging than earlier in 2021 to find workers to fill open positions, and a majority support vaccination requirements for their staff.  

Growing Difficulty Finding Experienced, Talented Workers

Nearly half (49%) of small businesses that are actively hiring say it is hard to find candidates with the skills they need, a significant jump from only 34% who said so in June. Small businesses that are actively hiring are also finding it harder to fill open positions (44% vs. 34% in June) and compete for talent with larger businesses in their area (42% vs. 26% in June).

The small business data comes just weeks after the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported there were 10.4 million job openings across the country in August, following a record high 10.9 million in July.

Although more small businesses say that they are likely to hire new employees this year (58% vs. 48% in June), there was little change in the percentage of small businesses that have actually initiated the hiring process (36% vs. 33% in June).

Most Small Businesses Support Vaccine Requirements

Nearly two in three (64%) small business owners support businesses in their area requiring vaccines for their employees—with both the Biden administration’s proposed mandate and business-initiated mandates receiving equal support. Similarly, 60% support businesses in their area requiring proof of vaccination from their customers.

More small business owners are implementing vaccine requirements for customers than in June, before the COVID-19 Delta variant worsened the pandemic in the U.S. About half (51%) are likely to or already require proof of COVID vaccination from customers, up from 38%. Two in five (61%) are likely to or already require staff to be vaccinated.

Although most small business owners (56%) see a return to a normal small business climate as distant (6 months – 1 year away), businesses with less than half of employees vaccinated are more likely to say the climate will never return to normal (26% vs. 8% in companies with more than half of employees vaccinated).

Meanwhile, 16% of small businesses with at least half of their workforce vaccinated expect a return to normal within three months, compared to only 6% of small businesses with low staff vaccination rates.

What the Experts Are Saying

“Small businesses are ready to hire, ready to welcome back customers, and support vaccinations to keep customers and employees safe,” said Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “However, the worker shortage crisis threatens the economic recovery of Main Streets across the country, and many small business owners have simply given up on finding new staff. Congress needs to focus on making it easier for small businesses to hire the people they need to grow, compete, and thrive.”

More Key Findings:

  • Retailers show the strongest levels of support for vaccine requirements for employees (70%), and proof of vaccination for customers (68%).
  • 10% of small businesses say they already require customers to show vaccine cards, up from just 3% that said they were doing this in June.
  • For employees unwilling to comply with vaccine or testing requirements, 43% of small businesses report they are likely to replace them, but few (10%) say they have already done so.
  • Small business decision makers are concerned about the health (65%) and future (64%) of their business, while half (52%) say they are concerned about their staffing.

Learn how the U.S. Chamber and U.S. Chamber Foundation’s America Works initiative is helping companies and our country address the workforce shortage at uschamber.com/america-works.

Full findings from the U.S. Chamber and MetLife’s quarterly small business surveys and special reports are at https://www.uschamber.com/sbindex/.

About the authors

Thaddeus Swanek

Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications

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

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