Despite a dramatically altered labor market, manufacturers consistently suggest that they have trouble attracting and retaining sufficient workers. More than 77% of small and medium-sized firms expect to continue struggling to identify talent in 2021 and beyond, according to a new survey from The Manufacturing Institute and BKD, a national CPA and advisory firm.

The December survey reported 475,000 manufacturing job openings, pulling back for the second straight month but continuing to be solid overall. In the larger economy, nonfarm business job openings increased to 6,646,000 in December, a five-month high. The December figure translates into 1.62 unemployed workers for every one nonfarm business job opening in the United States.

The National Federation of Independent Business reported that the Small Business Optimism Index dropped from 95.9 in December to 95.0 in January, its lowest level since May 2020, with small business owners expressing anxiety about the economy and the political landscape.