Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

More Evidence Employers Are Struggling to Fill the U.S. Job Void

Anecdotes from business leaders across the U.S. confirm what labor data have been suggesting for some time: Employers are struggling to fill a surge in job openings.

Unfilled Jobs

U.S. job vacancies rose to a record high in July, at 5.87 million, according to a Labor Department report released Wednesday. A range of industries – from professional and business services to construction and retail trade – saw big increases in available slots.  Meanwhile, employers hired at a steady pace.

The job openings report lags the Labor Department's monthly non-farm payrolls data, which last week showed that hiring slowed in August as employers added 151,000 jobs and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent. Whether businesses are struggling to find qualified applicants or reluctant to pay up for scarce labor, they're taking their time to fill positions. 

A third report, the Federal Reserve's Beige Book, which is a compilation of economic anecdotes from the 12 district banks, contained more of the same type of evidence, while shedding light on the kinds of workers seeing the highest demand.

"In many districts, businesses reported trouble filling job vacancies for high skilled positions, especially those aimed at technology specialists, engineers, and selected construction workers," according to the latest Beige Book, released on Wednesday. 

It wasn't just at the high end of the labor market that employers expressed difficulties. "A few resort hotels reported increased hiring of foreign workers because they were unable to find employees locally," according to the Richmond report. Meanwhile in New York,  "A trucking industry analyst notes that there remains a shortage of drivers, as firms do not have enough pricing power to enable them to afford raising salaries." The Boston region cited a staffing agency as saying it may need to come up with "creative techniques to secure qualified candidates faster than their competition."

Lessening slack in the labor market should spur wage growth, which has been improving at a sluggish pace.

While some respondents in the Fed survey reported wage pressures — San Francisco cited a shortage of physicians, nurses, and engineers as fueling salary demands in their industries — the report showed overall that expectations of wage growth were modest for the coming months.

(For more news and economic analysis, see Benchmark.)
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