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More than half of US small-business owners said they had open positions they could not fill in May, matching the record set in September and highlighting persistent hiring difficulties for firms in an extremely tight labor market.

Fifty-one percent of firms had vacancies last month, up four percentage points from April, according to data out Thursday from the National Federation of Independent Business. A near-record 49% of small-business owners said they raised compensation.

“The labor force participation rate is slowly rising but small businesses continue to have a hard time filling their open positions,” Bill Dunkelberg, NFIB chief economist, said in a statement. “The number of job openings continues to exceed the number of unemployed workers which has produced a tight labor market and added pressure on wage levels.”

A quarter of small firms said they are planning to raise worker pay in the next three months. That’s below the record 32% seen in each of the final three months of 2021, but still historically high. Firms of all sizes have raised wages to try to attract and retain employees in the hyper-competitive job market, but it’s often tougher for small firms to do so. 

Two-thirds of owners reported hiring or trying to hire in May, up eight points from April, but of those respondents, 92% reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill. 

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