By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers has worsened Wisconsin’s workforce shortage crisis in many ways, including refusing to follow the law.
The Democrat has yet to implement a state law signed by his predecessor that requires able-bodied welfare recipients to look for a job as a condition of receiving those taxpayer-funded benefits.
Assembly Republicans have been forced to write more bills demanding Evers do his job.
“If this is something you’ve heard before, it’s because it’s state law, and the governor is not enforcing it,” said state Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) in detailing Assembly Bill 935 to reporters before Thursday’s floor session. The measure is part of a package of bills aimed at tackling the workforce shortage.
“We have a law on the books that if you are an able-bodied adult without dependents, you need to be looking for work if you’re on the FoodShare program,” Born added. “The governor has decided to waive that unilaterally because of the pandemic, acting like there are not enough jobs for people.”
There are thousands upon thousands of good-paying jobs for people, as desperate employers across the state will attest. And they’re going unfilled partially by people who have opted to stay out of the workforce and on government benefits. More than 86,000 people were unemployed in December, the latest data available, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.
Born noted there are about 100,000 fewer people in the workforce than before the pandemic, and the number of people on state benefits has grown. Adult enrollment in Wisconsin’s Medicaid program grew by more than 100,000 people during the pandemic, for instance.
Assembly Bill 936 would make able-boded adults without dependents ineligible for Medical Assistance if they refuse employment for the purpose of maintaining their publicly subsidized health care benefits. Born said recipients are passing up promotions and pay raises to avoid earning above income thresholds for benefit eligibility.
“That’s wrong. That’s not what these programs are for,” Born said. “If you do that, you will lose these benefits.”
The bills passed Thursday along party lines. It is likely Evers will veto them. He’s long been opposed to work requirements.
“Any time we take away people’s ability to access health care and access help that they need, I think it’s a step in the wrong direction,” Evers said in 2018 on a campaign stop.
The Democrat has repeatedly refused to follow laws he doesn’t like. This is the latest example.
Meanwhile, employers desperate for workers are paying significantly more, offering sign-up bonuses and delivering increased benefits to attract a shallow pool of workers.
A new survey of Wisconsin businesses found that 88 percent of them are struggling to hire, and the workforce shortage is leading to even higher wage increases than last year. According to Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce’s latest Wisconsin Employer Survey, more than eight in 10 companies plan to raise wages by 3 percent or more in 2022.
More notably, 34 percent of businesses surveyed said they plan to raise wages by more than 4 percent in 2022. That is a jump from the roughly one-quarter of businesses who said they would raise wages by more than 4 percent in the Summer 2021 edition of this survey – and far greater than the 9 percent who responded the same one year ago.
“Wages are rising much faster than they have in recent memory,” said WMC President & CEO Kurt R. Bauer. “Wisconsin does not have enough people to fill the jobs we have available, and that creates an aggressive competition for talent. We are seeing wages rise at a faster rate, sign-on bonuses, work flexibility and many other strategies from companies to attract and retain talent.”
Extended unemployment benefits with generous federal subsidies have served as a disincentive for some out-of-work Wisconsinites to get back to work.
“To be able to avoid looking for work and collect benefits just seems wrong to average people when you get outside the Madison bubble,” Born said.