Nationally, small business job openings reach record levels. Jobs recovery still uneven across states, sectors.

As vaccinations proceed and state and local economies emerge from lockdowns, small businesses are hiring again, or trying to. NFIB reports job openings are at record levels.

According to NFIB’s monthly jobs report, 42% (seasonally adjusted) of small business owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, a record reading. The March reading is 20 points higher than the 48-year historical average of 22%.

“Where small businesses do have open positions, labor quality remains a significant problem for owners nationwide,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Small business owners are raising compensation to attract the right employees. It is important that lawmakers focus on policies that will help strengthen job growth and not deter the small business recovery.”

As usual, the biggest challenges involve finding skilled workers.

Thirty-four percent of owners have openings for skilled workers and 19% have openings for unskilled labor. In the construction industry, 50% of the job openings are for skilled workers. Fifty-five percent of construction firms reported few or no qualified applicants (down six points) and 38% cited the shortage of qualified labor as their top business problem (up three points).

Finding qualified employees remains a problem for small business owners. Ninety-one percent of those owners trying to hire reported few or no “qualified” applicants for the positions they were trying to fill in March. Twenty-eight percent of owners reported few qualified applicants for their open positions and 23% reported none.

The jobs recovery remains very uneven across states and sectors. Pew reports

While the nationwide number of workers who have been temporarily laid off has declined sharply, permanent job losses remain stubbornly high—about 3.5 million in February. The permanent job loss category covers people who, like Lee, don’t have a job to return to, and need to find a new one when the economy reopens completely.

At the height of the jobless crisis in April, 78% of the then 23 million unemployed Americans were temporarily laid off and only 9% were in the permanent loss category. As of last month, more than a third of the remaining 10 million unemployed were in the permanent loss category.

Those 3.5 million people total more than twice the pre-pandemic number of 1.3 million in February 2020, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Economists warn that that increase will slow the recovery, leaving states looking for ways to retrain workers or get them into college, and to keep additional workers from losing jobs by creating job-sharing arrangements.

The Pew report includes an interactive map comparing current employment levels with those of January 2020. Washington is shown has currently has 94.9% of the jobs it had in January 2020.

Progress, but there’s clearly a hill to climb.