Why there’s a shortage of workers in Wisconsin
May 19, 2021
Everywhere you go these days, you see the evidence. Signs posted in store windows. Banners hung across the sides of manufacturing facilities. Posters displayed in restaurants. They all say the same thing: We’re Hiring.
The jobs seem to be there. So where are the workers?
The April 2021 jobs report revealed that not much has changed in the last months regarding employment in the US. The unemployment rate remained relatively unchanged at 6.1 percent while total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 266,000. Job gains in leisure, hospitality, and other services were offset by declines in couriers, messengers, and temporary services jobs.
WDJT Milwaukee reported in April that some restaurants, such as Milwaukee Ale House in Grafton, had to cut back their hours because they can’t find enough employees to work them. The issue is both statewide and nationwide, according to the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s President and CEO Kristine Hillmer, who pointed to workers getting laid off last year as the start of the problem.
“We believe that we’ve lost a lot of industry professionals to other jobs,” Hillmer told WDJT. She said other professions that were still hiring at the time snapped up restaurant industry workers.
A quick perusal of Facebook shows many Midwest folks blame the problem primarily on what they see as the apparent ease of maintaining unemployment benefits in the face of a continuing poverty-level minimum wage. People simply can’t provide for their families earning only $7.25 per hour, the current Wisconsin and federal minimum wage.
Governor Tony Evers suspended the usual job search requirement for those receiving unemployment benefits because of the pandemic. Now that mask mandates have loosened up and vaccination rates have risen, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin want to reinstate that job search requirement in the hopes that it will nudge people back into the workforce. Wisconsin’s job search requirements for unemployment benefits was previously one of the highest in the nation, requiring those out of work to apply for four jobs per week, up from two. Former Governor Scott Walker put this requirement in place in 2013. Governor Evers’s waiver will expire July 10.
Governor Evers told The Journal Times editorial board in mid-May that he believes economic recovery will come through vaccinations, not weakening help during the pandemic. And that includes this job search waiver.
“We should leave it as is,” he told the board.
Hillmer points to many other factors as contributing to a shortage of workers. Childcare has continued to be in short supply for working families. Many parents have had to quit jobs in order to care for their children. She added that immigration limits had helped create a dearth of J-1 work visas, which in turn created a dearth of workers.
Roberta Matuson, a jobs consultant for 25+ years, wrote in Forbes that a US Census survey completed in mid-March reported that 4.2 million adults aren’t working because they’re afraid of contracting the coronavirus. And since working from home became standard for many during the pandemic, many would-be workers want a job they can continue to perform from the safety of home.
Matuson suggested that employers adapt to the needs of potential workers to attract them. If employers will allow employees to work from home, they should advertise that fact clearly, using phrases like “work from home” and “remote work.” Updating benefits to better reflect pandemic times also makes sense, she said. Providing a safety net for workers by grouping vacation, sick, and personal time into a lump sum paid time off account will give them a sense of security that, should they suddenly need to take time off, they will have a safety net for a time.
Above all, Matuson advises, employers should be flexible by compromising for a topnotch worker who might not yet be ready for a return to the workplace. Allowing them to work part-time or full-time from home may help snag that prized employee for the long-term.