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Time to get to work

Have the nation’s small businesses ever had such a hard time filling open positions?

The National Federation of Small Business’ monthly jobs report showed that 42% of small business owners reported job openings they could not fill, 20 percentage points higher than the 48-year historical average of 22%. What’s more, 91% of business owners trying to hire reported few or no “qualified” applicants for the positions they were trying to fill in March while 28% of owners reported few qualified applicants for their open positions. Nearly a quarter — 23% — reported no applicants for open positions.

This is a local problem, too. There are jobs open ranging from restaurants to skilled labor. Some local businesses have shut down an extra day each week because they can’t find staff.

What can be done? There were 1,113 unemployed people in Essex County and another 1,244 in Franklin County as of March (the last month recorded), according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Surely some of them are qualified to fill the jobs businesses have available.

Of course, continued work to address both availability and the cost of child care is needed, because too many parents have to choose between taking care of their children or working.

Also, finding a good match between businesses and workers is difficult. There is still work to be done in training a workforce that meets the needs of area businesses.

Nevertheless, a good number of the jobs businesses have open don’t require a college degree. Business owners are increasing wages as much as possible, in part to compete with additional federal pandemic benefits.

Some of the problem is still related to the pandemic, but the amount of COVID-19 vaccines available in the North Country means anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be. Fear of contracting COVID-19 should no longer be a concern when it comes to finding work. Vaccinations also should allow schools to fully reopen in the fall, meaning more parents won’t have to make the choice between working and taking care of children.

Given the number of jobs going unfilled, federal pandemic unemployment benefits should be allowed to expire on Sept. 26. The labor market has spent a year being influenced by outside factors — first shutdowns, then hour and capacity limits, and now programs like pandemic unemployment that are becoming less and less necessary.

During our long emergency, the national government took care of people’s basic needs, borrowing immense amounts of money to do so. That was probably the right thing to do, but now it’s time for those who can work but weren’t doing so to get out and look for jobs. It’s time for everyone to share their gifts and their hard work. It’s time to get this country cranking again.

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