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Published

October 28, 2021

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Report Summary

The latest MetLife/U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey of small businesses[1], conducted between September 30 – October 7, 2021, shows that those who have initiated the hiring process are finding it more difficult now than this summer to find candidates to fill job openings. Although more small businesses report a likelihood to hire new talent this year (compared to early summer), optimism about hiring is muted, suggesting America’s labor supply crisis shows no signs of letting up.

More small businesses say they intend to hire, but many are finding it hard to find the necessary workers to fill available openings. Currently, around three in five small business owners say they are likely to or already hiring in 2021, up 10 percentage points from June. Despite these intentions, only about one third say they have actively searched for, recruited, or interviewed new talent this year, unchanged from June.

Small business owners who have initiated the hiring process are more likely now than in the early summer to say it is challenging to find candidates with the skills and experience they need, to fill open positions, and to compete with larger businesses for talent. Given these challenges, optimism around hiring expectations remains muted.

In addition, most small businesses surveyed support implementing COVID-19 vaccine requirements for their staff and are more likely to require proof of vaccination from customers than they were early this summer. Over three in five (64%) small business owners support vaccine requirements, with both the Biden administration’s proposed mandate and business initiated mandates receiving equal support. About half (51%) of small businesses say they are likely to or already require customers to show proof of vaccination, (up from two in five who were likely to do so early in the summer).

Majorities also support vaccination and masking requirements for staff and customers. Around 60% report the likelihood to require staff be vaccinated to work in person, and about two-thirds say they are likely to require masks for both staff and customers.

Small businesses are also less likely to see a quick end to the pandemic: most feel a return to normal is still far off. Over half (56%) of small businesses think the small business climate will not return to normal for at least six months. Additionally, while some (13%) small businesses now see a return to normal within three months, at the same time more than one in ten (13%)—an all-time high—say it will never return to normal. These incremental shifts in either direction (toward sooner or never) highlight a continued uncertainty about the small business landscape.

Heading into the final months of 2021, concerns remain for small businesses – about their future, their hiring prospects, and when the small business climate will return to normal.

Highlights

  • More small businesses say it is hard to find job candidates. Forty-four percent say it is hard to find job candidates to fill open positions, up from 33% saying the same in June. Finding candidates with the right experience is harder: 46% say it is hard to find candidates with the needed experience, compared to 35% who said the same in June.  
  • More small businesses say they are likely to hire this year—but in practice many are holding back. Currently, around three in five small business owners say they are likely to or already hiring in 2021, up 10 percentage points from June. Despite these intentions, only about one third say they have actively searched for, recruited, or interviewed new talent this year, unchanged from June.
  • Majority support COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Sixty-four percent of small businesses support both businesses in their area requiring vaccines for their staff and the federal government requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to require vaccines or regular testing for their staff.
  • More small businesses require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for customers. About half (51%) of small businesses say they are likely to, or already require, proof of vaccination from customers. This represents a shift in attitudes on vaccine requirements from June (38% said they were likely/already doing so), before COVID-19 variants worsened the pandemic.
  • Majority of small businesses support mask requirements for staff and customers. A majority of small business owners across all regions, sizes, and sectors say they are likely to, or already have, implemented mask requirements for staff (69%) and customers (66%) at their business.
  • Most small businesses see a return to normal as distant. Over half (56%) of small businesses think the small business climate will not return to normal for at least six months, with more than one in ten (13%) saying it will never return to normal.

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[1] Beginning in Q2 2020, the MetLife/U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index survey has been conducted via online surveys, in place of the typical phone-based approach. This methodological shift is in response to anticipated lower response rates in dialing business locations as a result of mandated closures related to the COVID-19 outbreak. While significant changes in data points can largely be attributed to the recent economic environment, switching from a phone to online approach may have also generated a mode effect.