BOSTON — The state’s hiring crunch is getting worse, according to a new report that finds more than half of all employers are struggling to fill vacancies.

The latest survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that 51% of all employers could not hire enough staff in September, while more than 28% of available positions went unfilled. That’s slightly higher than a similar survey in August.

Meanwhile, 92% of business owners hiring or trying to hire reported few or no qualified applicants — a 48-year high, the group said.

Business leaders in Massachusetts say the data shows a deepening problem that is dragging on the economy.

“This is an unfortunate trend developing in Massachusetts month after month. Employers are struggling to adequately staff their business,” said Christopher Carlozzi, the federation’s Massachusetts state director.

Business owners have suggested that generous state and federal unemployment benefits, a lack of incentives to return to the workplace, and lingering fears about COVID-19 may be keeping many would-be workers on the sidelines.

Still, those federal unemployment programs — including a $300-a-week enhanced benefit — ended Sept. 4 and don’t appear to have had an impact on people returning to the workforce.

The latest NFIB survey found that a number of businesses are increasing compensation and effort to attract more employees. About 42% of employers who responded to the survey increased pay in September, while an additional 30% are planning to increase compensation in coming months.

Overall, about 67% of small employers said they were looking to hire new workers in September, according to the group’s report.

Meanwhile, high numbers of COVID-19 infections, coupled with chronic worker shortages and supply chain disruptions, are dampening overall business confidence, according to a survey by the pro-business Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

The group’s Business Confidence Index, which draws upon surveys of about 140 businesses, declined 3.1 points to 58.9 in September, the group said in a report.

Business confidence was also affected by President Joe Biden’s decision to require companies with 100 or more employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or regular testing, the group noted.

“The fundamentals of the economy remain strong,” Sara L. Johnson, chair of the group’s board of economic advisers, said in a statement. “At the same time, materials shortages, e-shipping delays, a tight labor market, and the ongoing pandemic make it difficult for employers to concentrate on long-term growth.”

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

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