Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The job search just got a little bit sweeter. 10% of small businesses this past quarter have offered — for the first time — to repay a part of student loans, relax drug policies or hire ex-cons, according to the latest CNBC and SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey. Reeling from the 3.7% unemployment rate, businesses large and small have also raised wages and benefits.

The big picture: To fill a whopping 7.1 million job openings the tightest labor market in a half-century, employers are loosening their requirements and raising traditional benefits to lure workers.

Impact: "Workers are the bigger winners as the labor market tightens," Indeed's Chief Economist Jed Kolko tells Axios.

By the numbers:

  • 12% of small businesses offered student loan repayment as a new benefit in the last quarter.
  • 14% relaxed their drug policies.
  • 12% considered candidates with a criminal record for the first time.

These numbers show small businesses are increasingly tracking with cultural shifts affecting current job seekers: an increasingly indebted workforce, a growing number of states legalizing Marijuana use, and an unemployment rate among ex-felons that's more than 7 times higher than the national average.

Why it matters:

  • These survey results place small businesses ahead of the curve on student loan repayment. While 12% of small businesses experimented with offering this benefit this quarter, only about 4% of companies overall offer student loan repayment benefits, per the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2018 Employee Benefits Report.
  • Labor force participation rates have dropped in areas where opioid prescription rates are high over the last 15 years, Axios’ Caitlin Owens reports, and as Americans take advantage of legalized Marijuana in several states, employers may have a vested interest in overlooking prior or current drug use to broaden their pool of candidates.
  • Unemployment for former felons was 27% earlier this year, per The Prison Policy Initiative’s estimates (there are no federal figures for former felons' unemployment), yet most human resource managers report they would consider hiring those who have been incarcerated (only about 14% of human resource managers say they won’t consider it), per a report by the Society of Human Resources Management.

Yes, but: While firms are debuting these new practices, there has also been a shift in bargaining power toward employers. Weaker unions, outsized firms and more noncompetes "make it harder for workers to look for and get outside offers," Kolko tells Axios.

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In pictures: Storm Zeta churns inland after lashing Louisiana

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Tropical Storm Zeta has killed at least two people, triggered flooding, downed powerlines and caused widespread outages since making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane on Wednesday.

The big picture: A record 11 named storms have made landfall in the U.S. this year. Zeta is the fifth named storm to do so in Louisiana in 2020, the most ever recorded. It weakened t0 a tropical storm early Thursday, as it continued to lash parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle with heavy rains and strong winds.