MADISON — Wisconsin businesses are pleading with Gov. Tony Evers to do the one thing he can immediately do to ease the state’s worker shortage crisis: End the pandemic-related unemployment bonus payments.
A new survey by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce finds an overwhelming majority of employer respondents — 85 percent — support ending the $300 federal unemployment enhancement. Conducted over the first three weeks of June, the survey finds that a plurality (35 percent) of businesses believe the unemployment benefits are too generous.
WMC and chambers of commerce throughout the state have for weeks urged the governor to end the payment, as more than half of the states have done. The thousands of WMC and chamber members say the $300 weekly subsidy is “without question incentivizing people to stay out of the workforce, making an existing labor shortage an emergency.”
With the enhancer, many unemployed Wisconsinites are collecting $670 per week in state and federal benefits — or nearly $17 an hour. That taxpayer- and business-subsidized wage is making employers compete with the government in attracting candidates in an already-shallow labor pool.
Evers repeatedly has said he just doesn’t see the “data to support” the reality that businesses, big and small, are experiencing. He has threatened to veto a Republican bill that would end the federal bonus payment.
“It is time for Gov. Evers to connect the dots on this major issue for our economy,” said WMC President & CEO Kurt Bauer. “Hundreds of Wisconsin businesses just barely survived months of government-mandated lockdowns, restrictions and limited capacity. Now, many of those same businesses face another serious government-imposed burden in the form of overly generous unemployment benefits that have created a full-blown workforce emergency.”
Survey respondents overwhelmingly (72 percent) said the workforce shortage is the top public policy issue facing Wisconsin. Contrary to the left’s worn-out mantra that businesses are struggling to attract workers because they’re paying “poverty wages,” nearly 80 percent of respondents said they plan to hire in the months ahead, and they are raising wages. Seven in 10 businesses plan to raise wages at least 3 percent in 2021, while over a quarter of businesses plan to raise wages by more than 4 percent, according to the survey.
Help-wanted signs are everywhere. So are entry-level positions paying $15 an hour, or better, weakening the left’s Fight for $15 — $15 an hour minimum wage — campaign.
Perhaps Doreen Renken, owner of Riverside Cleaning, a home cleaning service in Merrill, summed up the situation best in an email to her clients.
“We have been desperately trying to find employees (along with many other companies). I would set up interviews with people and then they do not show up. Now we just had an employee text us that they quit, we have another one that gave two weeks notice who didn’t come in yesterday and we can not get ahold of them today to find out if they are coming in today or not,” Renken wrote.
“So, because of this we are now even more short staffed than we were before. As a company we have now had to make some difficult decisions, and will be cancelling all window & carpet cleaning jobs until we can find proper staffing, at this point I have no clue as to how long this may take.”
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has said that the $300 per week supplement was a “noticeable” contributor to the workforce shortage. One in seven people offered a job would turn it down because of the benefits, the Fed said. That’s 14 percent of the potential workforce actively sitting on the sidelines.
“Repealing the expanded unemployment benefits is a short-term solution that our economy needs right now,” added Bauer. “But, we must also address long-term challenges to retain young Wisconsinites after they graduate from high school, attract people from outside the state to live and work here, and train people who need upskilling for the family-supporting careers we have available.”
Read the full WMC Employer Survey here.