Tight Labor Market Squeezing Local Pharmacies, Survey Shows

NCPA says 80 percent of local pharmacies can’t find workers

NCPA June 2, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (June 2, 2021) – The national labor shortage that has small employers scrambling for workers is also affecting front-line health care providers, according to a new survey released today by the National Community Pharmacists Association.

“This is a major challenge for community pharmacies that are seeing many more patients because of the pandemic,” said NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, pharmacist, MBA. “Finding qualified workers is tough under normal circumstances. This is an acute problem for local pharmacies that should be at full strength now.”

In a survey of independent community pharmacists conducted May 26-28, 80 percent say they are having a difficult time filling open positions. Nearly 90 percent of respondents say they can’t find pharmacy technicians, a critical position. Nearly 60 percent can’t find front-end employees to run the cash register, track inventory, and manage other basic store operations. Twenty-five percent can’t find delivery drivers, a big problem now that most local pharmacies expanded that service during the COVID-19 crisis. More than 13 percent are running into a wall trying to hire staff pharmacists to handle prescriptions and patients.

The labor shortage is also driving up wages and benefits, a trickier problem for local pharmacies than most other small businesses.

“Most other businesses can raise prices to cover the additional costs, but it’s not that simple for pharmacies,” explained Hoey. “Their reimbursements are controlled by pharmacy benefit managers. There is no option to pass along higher prices to consumers as in most other industries. The PBMs are just middlemen who most often get paid by local, state, and federal governments so they are insulated from higher labor costs while the pharmacies doing the work get hammered.”

According to the survey, more than 72 percent of respondents say they are raising wages to attract workers. Fifty-six percent are offering more flexible work hours, and more than 20 percent are increasing benefits. According to the 2020 NCPA Digest, sponsored by Cardinal Health, the average technician wage is $16 per hour, while the average wage for sales clerks and other positions is $11.90 per hour.

“Their costs are going up. They can’t cut services. And their patients have never needed them more,” said Hoey.

Congress and the administration should remember all of that as they consider policies and programs that affect businesses.

“One thing Congress can do immediately is clarify the Payroll Protection Program, which allowed many pharmacies to keep their workers at the onset of the pandemic,” said Hoey. “There’s a lot of confusion about whether they have to pay back the loans, even though they followed the program. The uncertainty creates additional pressure.

“Congress should also remember that every business is competing for the same employees, so wages and benefits will increase without the need for government intervention. Anything they do that discourages workers from getting back into the job market is counter-productive.”

Note: This NCPA survey is based on 278 responses to a survey sent to roughly 8,000 pharmacy owners/managers from May 26-28. NCPA is the country’s largest organization of independent pharmacy owners.


Founded in 1898, the National Community Pharmacists Association is the voice for the community pharmacist, representing over 21,000 pharmacies that employ approximately 250,000 individuals nationwide. Community pharmacies are rooted in the communities where they are located and are among America’s most accessible health care providers. To learn more, visit www.ncpa.org.