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Marketplace Morning Report

Tight job market hits small business confidence

Justin Ho Feb 13, 2019
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Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey showed that those job openings are at a record high. Another report — the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index — said small businesses optimism is at the lowest level in months.

Given that a big number of job openings might sound like an economy where business is booming, those two pieces of news might sound contradictory. But talking to the businesses themselves, it’s easy to see how businesses might be pessimistic.

One reason: It’s awfully hard to find workers these days.

“There was one point where I was hiring and set up a full day of interviews — I think I had about 14 to 16 interviews back to back,” said Emmeline Zhao, partner and general manager of Little Tong Noodle Shop in New York. “Only two people showed up.”

She said that means a lot of roles at Little Tong have gone unfilled.

“The question is how do we operate the same way, how do we optimize our operations with a much leaner staff?” she said.

Wells Fargo senior economist Sarah House said this is one of the biggest complaints small businesses have right now.

“[Businesses] need workers to grow,” House said. “They can’t do it all by machines, and so the fact that they’re having so much trouble finding workers is beginning to weigh on their sentiment a little bit.”

For workers, things aren’t all that bad if you can simply ghost a job interview.

“You’re willing to quit your job and move on to something new if you feel that the economy’s doing well and you’re capable of finding a new job,” said Frances Donald, head of macroeconomic strategy at Manulife Asset Management.

A Gallup poll this week found that Americans’ optimism about finances is at the highest level in 16 years. Wages are slowly rising, too.

But that keeps the pressure on businesses to lure in candidates. Zhao at Little Tong said she’s playing up other benefits to attract candidates, like health care, commuting money and opportunities to move up.

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