As the nation’s economy steadily improves, employers are increasingly optimistic about the state of business in the Commonwealth, as well as projections for future growth in sales and hiring. However, their ability to offer healthcare to their workforce due to persistent uncertainty and rising costs in the market continue to be a chief concern. These indicators are among the responses from the PA Chamber’s 27th Annual Economic Survey, which was conducted in August 2017 by Susquehanna Polling and Research.
According to the survey, the rising costs of healthcare rank among employers’ top concerns; with 65 percent of respondents saying that “controlling the costs of healthcare” should be the Pennsylvania Chamber’s top policy priority in its dealings with lawmakers. In fact, while 61 percent of the survey participants said that they provide health coverage for their employees – a slight increase over last year but still far less than the 74 percent who offered health care in 2013 – a vast majority of them (73 percent) reported that premiums have increased. Also listed as problematic was the lack of clarity that exists within the state’s unemployment compensation system, as 64 percent said they’ve encountered situations whereby employees fired for good cause were awarded benefits; as well as workers’ compensation premiums that have increased for more than a third of respondents in recent years. Other leading barriers to growth that were noted in the survey included: over taxation; mandates and regulations; and workforce development.
The good news is that of the 654 employers surveyed statewide, a strong majority – 76 percent – believe that the state’s economy is “better” or “the same” as it was one year ago. Also, the percentage of employers who say the economy is the “most important issue” affecting their businesses is down to 10 percent – the lowest figure in nearly 10 years since before the Great Recession took hold in 2008-09. Additionally, 42 percent say they expect sales growth to increase in coming months; 22 percent expect to hire more workers; and 27 percent noted that they made “major” investments in machinery or technology over the last year, with 15 percent more pledging to make those investments in the coming months.