BOSTON — Employers are still struggling to find workers amid a post-pandemic hiring crunch, according to a new report by a national business group.

The national survey of employers by the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that nearly half of all businesses couldn’t hire enough staff in July, while more than 22% of available positions went unfilled.

Ninety-three percent of business owners hiring or trying to hire reported few or no qualified applicants, the group said.

Business leaders say the data shows a deepening hiring crunch that has been fueled in Massachusetts, in part, by generous unemployment benefits.

"As Massachusetts businesses move forward following months of state mandated restrictions and shutdowns, the latest hurdle they face is hiring staff to keep their doors open," said Chris Carlozzi, the group’s state director in Massachusetts.

He said consumers are "ready to shop, dine and spend money,” but because of the hiring crunch they "face reduced hours and longer wait times."

"Unfortunately this latest hurdle will impact many of our state’s seasonal businesses that heavily rely on summer revenue they missed out on last year," he said.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, blames unemployment benefits and lack of incentives to return to work.

"Massachusetts has, by far, the most generous benefits in the country," he said. "That is kept a lot of people out of the workforce."

Hurst said lingering fears about COVID-19 also have kept many people on the sidelines who would otherwise be going back to work.

Other research suggests a scarcity of affordable child care among the factors keeping people from returning to their jobs.

The state’s unemployment rate in June was 4.9%, compared to the national jobless rate of 5.9%.

Hurst said businesses that survived government shutdowns due to the pandemic are now being forced to cut hours because they can't find enough workers.

"Many of them are still in the black," he said. "Their costs are high, and while sales recovering, they're nowhere near pre-pandemic levels."

Gov. Charlie Baker has acknowledged the struggles of businesses trying to bring back workers. The state has re-instituted a work search requirement for people collecting unemployment, which requires anyone getting benefits to prove efforts to find "suitable" work.

Business leaders have prodded the Baker administration to divert some of the federal pandemic relief funds the state has received for hiring bonuses.

They've also pressured the governor to end the state’s participation in federal unemployment programs, including a $300 weekly benefit.

The federal benefit is set to expire next month.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhinews.com.

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