The US Has a Shortage of Accountants

With gaps in the industry, dozens of companies say they can't file annual reports in time
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2024 4:15 PM CDT
The US Has a Shortage of Accountants
   (Getty / AndreyPopov)

Companies like Tupperware and Mattel can relate to anyone sweating April's pending tax deadlines. A shortage of accountants has caused 70 companies to delay releasing key annual reports this year, Business Insider reports, an astounding 40% increase over 2023. The Securities and Exchange Commission can issue penalties over such late filings, but the dearth in accountants is a headache without a simple remedy.

  • Companies are making mistakes: Along with tardy annual reports, companies like Lyft, Rivian Automotive, and Planet Fitness are also seeing more accounting errors, some so egregious it's affected their stock prices. Fortune says 720 companies cited lack of staff for accounting errors last year, a 30% increase from 2019. "If the people preparing the financials are overworked, or there's not enough of them, you will have errors," says Joshua Khavis, an assistant professor of accounting and law.

  • Where did all the accountants go? According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 75% of certified accountants were ready to retire in 2020. Demand over the next decade will be high, with an estimated 126,500 job openings for accountants and auditors.
  • Attracting new talent: Despite accounting being an industry ready to hire, Gen Z isn't racing to apply for what BI calls "long hours and unfulfilling work." One reason: they need a fifth year of college, known as the 150-hour requirement. Per Fortune, young professionals carry an average of $20,000 of student debt, so tacking on the extra year of college for an accountant's starting salary (about $62,000) doesn't add up for many.
The CPA Journal also lists lack of diversity in the industry and its highly specialized course of study as barriers of entry to some. To fill these gaps, some say the industry needs to pony up and increase salaries. PricewaterhouseCoopers is testing a program that allows graduates to earn credits for certification while on the job. Others say dropping the 150-hour requirement is the way to go. "You're talking about the opportunity cost of working full-time for a year and the cost of tuition," accounting professor Ralph Polimeni tells Fortune. "If I were entering now into the profession, I don't think I would've gone into accounting." Creating a core exam is another alternative certification study, per the CPA Journal. (IRS commissioner to rich tax cheats: pay up.)

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