(The Center Square) – As the Illinois economy slowly picks up steam, businesses are struggling to find workers.
The National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index rose to 99.8 in April, an increase of 1.6 points from March, but a record 44% of owners reported job openings they could not fill.
NFIB state director Mark Grant said several factors may contributing to the worker shortage, including child care responsibilities, and enhanced unemployment benefits.
“An extra $300 per week from the federal government on top of state unemployment benefits are perhaps one of the things keeping people from reentering the workforce,” said Grant.
To date, at least 16 states have elected to opt-out of federal unemployment programs before their official expiration on Labor Day. Governors say they are doing so in response to labor shortages, and claim the benefits are keeping people from looking for work.
Governor J.B. Pritzker said Illinois will not be opting out of the extra federal money. Despite having readily available and effective COVID-19 vaccines, he believes many people are leery about going back to work.
“There are circumstances as well where people are afraid to back to work and they are staying out of the workforce or at least staying away from taking a new job,” Pritzker said.
President Joe Biden has rejected the notion that the supplemental unemployment payments were stifling job growth and employers’ hiring efforts. He said his administration will make sure that unemployment insurance rules prohibiting people from collecting benefits if they reject a “suitable” job.
Grant said the employment landscape does present opportunities for some.
“High schoolers or young college folks who are looking for summer work who may not have had the opportunities in the past may have more opportunities for work in the summertime,” Grant said.
The index also showed the percent of owners expecting better business conditions over the next 6 months fell to 15%, which the organization calls “surprisingly glum.” Grant said if the worker shortage continues, it may be a long summer for some businesses.
“Members who have talked to me about their restaurants and some of their other businesses that they have that depend largely upon a lot of employees, they are concerned of not being able to stay open,” Grant said.