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Employment rising but ‘widespread’ labor shortages persist: Beige Book

September 13, 2018

Employment grew modestly or moderately across most of the nation through the end of August, according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book report released Wednesday. Labor markets continued to be characterized as tight throughout the country, with most districts reporting widespread shortages.

The Beige Book, a collection of observations from the 12 federal regional banks, provides a snapshot of current economic conditions. 

Construction workers, truck drivers, engineers and other high-skill workers remained in short supply, but some districts also noted shortages of lower-skill workers at restaurants, retailers and other types of firms. Six of the 12 districts cited instances in which labor shortages were constraining sales or delaying projects. Dallas noted robust job growth, while three districts reported little change that partly reflected a dearth of applicants.

Wage growth was mostly characterized as modest or moderate, although a number of districts cited steep wage hikes for construction workers. Some districts indicated that businesses were increasingly using benefits — such as vacation time, flexible schedule and bonuses — to attract and retain workers, as well as putting more resources into training.

Overall, reports from the Federal Reserve Districts suggest that the economy expanded at a moderate pace through the end of August. Dallas reported relatively brisk growth, while Philadelphia, St. Louis and Kansas City indicated somewhat below-average growth. Businesses generally remained optimistic about the near-term outlook, though most districts noted concern and uncertainty about trade tensions — particularly, though not only, among manufacturers. A number of districts noted that such concerns had prompted some businesses to scale back or postpone capital investment.

Observations by staffing firms include:

Boston: Staffing firms cited increasing labor demand and decreasing labor supply across the board. Some staffing firms noted increases in bill and pay rates, ranging from low single digits to 10%. Nearly all responding New England staffing firms reported year-over-year revenue growth over the summer, ranging from the low single digits to as much as about 20%. Some firms reported spending more to attract and retain talent, including the adoption of new technology and incentive programs. Demand for permanent workers is greater than for temporary workers, but supply issues are even more pronounced for temporary positions, making temp vacancies more difficult to fill.

Philadelphia: Staffing firms continued to report incremental growth in job orders but ongoing difficulty attracting and retaining employees. One firm noted that temp-to-hire orders had increased, giving clients a three- to four-month trial while avoiding recruiting and onboarding costs. Staffing firms reported no dramatic changes in wage trends; even in labor markets with the district’s lowest unemployment rates, wages were said to “continue to inch up.”

Richmond: Staffing firms indicated that job openings increased for customer service representatives, administrative assistants, medical professionals and construction workers. Firms also reported high demand for construction workers, electricians, engineers, pilots, logistics workers, accountants, IT professionals, auditors, financial analysts, marketing/sales managers, plant workers, mechanics and truckers. Wage increases remained modest, overall.

Chicago: There were reports of firms forgoing layoffs to avoid the challenge of finding workers when demand picked up. A staffing firm that primarily supplies manufacturers with production workers reported no change in billable hours. Wage growth remained modest overall, with wage increases most likely to be reported for managerial, professional and technical, and production workers.

Minneapolis: Staffing industry contacts reported growth in clients and total job orders. However, finding labor was much more difficult. Staffing clients widely reported more unfilled job openings compared with the same period a year earlier. A contact with offices in Minnesota and Wisconsin said there were “not nearly enough candidates” for available openings.

Dallas: Job growth continued to be widespread across sectors. Labor shortages persisted, covering a wide range of industries and skill sets, and several contacts said that a lack of qualified candidates was constraining growth. Poaching of skilled labor in midstream construction was reported, and a staffing firm said they had cancelled retainer contracts with some customers in order to recruit those firms’ employees for active clients.


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