Economic Report: A record number of U.S. small businesses are raising wages, NFIB says, but skilled workers still hard to find

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The numbers: Small-business owners are more bullish on the U.S. economy, but they are still struggling to hire enough workers and keep up with booming sales.

A closely followed small-business index rose in June to the highest level in eight months, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

The index climbed 2.9 points to 102.5 and topped 100 for the first time since November. It had fallen in May for the first time this year.

Yet companies said finding qualified labor is still their biggest problem even though a record number of small businesses reported raising pay or benefits.

Read: Job openings hit record 9.2 million, but workers aren’t easy to find

Big picture: A reopened U.S. economy has stoked a burst of growth as Americans venture out. They are driving, traveling and entertaining themselves almost as much as ever as governments relax restrictions.

The surge in growth has had an unwanted side-effect, however, of pushing up the prices of many goods and services.

Businesses can’t keep up with demand owing to persistent shortages of key supplies and even labor. Millions of people who lost their jobs or left work during the pandemic still have not returned.

Also: This is the No. 1 reason unemployed Americans aren’t looking for work

Many companies big and small are increasing compensation, but even that has not been enough to do the trick.

“Small businesses optimism is rising as the economy opens up,” said NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg, “yet a record number of employers continue to report that there are few or no qualified applicants for open positions.”

Read: Higher U.S. inflation isn’t going away just yet. Here’s why

Key details: Some 46% of small businesses said they could not fill open jobs, down slightly from a record high in May.

A record number of firms raised wages and benefits in an effort to lure new hires and to retain valued employees, but even that wasn’t enough. Businesses say their No. 1 problem is a lack of qualified workers and higher labor costs.

To help offset the higher cost of supplies and labor, a net 47% of firms said they raised prices in June — the highest reading in 40 years.

All of these trends are feeding into higher inflation in the U.S.

Read: Fed admits inflation rose much higher than expected, but it still insists price increases are temporary

The NFIB is the nation’s largest small-business lobbying group.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average

and S&P 500

rose in Monday trades.