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Remember 14% unemployment? A year later Wisconsin's unemployment rate down to 3.9%
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Remember 14% unemployment? A year later Wisconsin's unemployment rate down to 3.9%

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Several states are now offering incentives for people to return to work. In Oklahoma, it's $12,000. In Connecticut, a $1,000 signing bonus. And these are limited-time offers, like a special you'd see on an infomercial. The first 10,000 or 20,000 workers to take the offer get it. If you wait too long, no bonus for you. It's an effort to force people from the sidelines get them off of unemployment benefits and on to regular payrolls.I would be lying to you if I said we had no worries this labor shortage is a huge, huge concern," said Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant Association.Arizona is one of many states where business owners say they can't hire enough workers. That's despite the fact that the industry is down nearly two million jobs from pre-pandemic levels, according to the National Restaurant Association. In Texas, more than half of service industry executives say they're trying to hire workers. Four in ten of those executive said continuing unemployment benefits are to blame. But there might be more going on here."I think this pandemic is an opportunity for restaurant workers and owners to look at the industry and assess the way workers have been treated so poorly in the past," said restaurant worker Rosa Kovacevich.Some restaurant workers are complaining, saying they don't get health coverage on the job. No sick time either. Wages are low, along with unpredictable schedules. And for workers with kids, worries about childcare. "When employers say 'I cant find all of the workers I need to hire,' the rest of the statement is really 'at the wage I want to pay,'" said Michael Shields, researcher at Policy Matters Ohio.But restaurant owners have been struggling for over a year now. They can't afford to offer workers more money without passing the cost onto us. For example, take a chain of 17 restaurants across northeast Ohio called Winking Lizard Tavern. They have 200 open positions right now. "I need about 10 managers. I need cooks, servers, bartenders, dishwashers, you name it, we need it. Capitalism is a great thing, but you cant compete against the government, right? Weve got to figure that one out," said co-owner John Lane.The Biden administration says if someone is getting unemployment benefits, they have to take a suitable job if it's offered. But the Chamber of Commerce wants the benefit to end. It says one in four unemployed workers are making more money now than they did when they were working.

Wisconsin's unemployment rate stood at 3.9% in April, a stark contrast to one year earlier when the coronavirus pandemic gripped the state and the unemployment rate hit levels not seen since the Great Depression.

In April 2020, the first full month that COVID-19 forced closures of many businesses, Wisconsin's unemployment rate was 14.1%, more than four times higher than it had been the month before. In March 2020 unemployment was at 3.1% in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's current rate remains below the national average of 6.1%. Wisconsin added 8,200 private sector jobs in April, bringing its total to 261,200 more than a year ago as employers shed workers early in the pandemic. A year ago, the state lost 386,000 private sector jobs in one month.

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The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development reported the latest unemployment numbers Thursday.

In recent days, those Wisconsin communities that still had mask requirements and other restrictions in place have been announcing their end as the pandemic eases and vaccinations increase.

As of May 21, 2020, Wisconsin had recorded nearly 14,000 COVID-19 cases and 487 deaths. A year later, the state had more than 607,000 cases and nearly 7,000 deaths.

To date, 46% of the state's population had received at least one dose of vaccine and more than 41% were fully vaccinated.

Workers Wanted: Wisconsin's Looming Crisis

Wisconsin is expected to need 45,000 workers in seven years but it simply lacks the people to fill them. Even now, employers complain they can't fill high-need jobs — many of them low-income but some in nursing, IT and the sciences that pay better than the state median. 

Our Workers Wanted series explores the causes and implications of this looming workforce crisis.

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Employers seeking more qualified workers are encouraging more career-based learning opportunities in schools.

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Gov. Scott Walker has shifted the state's focus from job creation to workforce development, but critics say the focus is still on the needs of businesses, rather than of workers.

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At Jamf Software in Eau Claire, creating a welcoming environment for employees extends into the community.

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To attract more residents, Wisconsin is seeking to bolster its image as a place where innovation happens.

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As automation increases, manual labor jobs are going away, and the new jobs that replace them require more education.

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As older Americans who consume more health care grow in number, the demand for health care workers is growing.

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With unemployment near a record low and more baby boomers retiring, Wisconsin faces a looming worker crisis.

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As Wisconsin employers scramble to find both skilled and unskilled workers, many are wondering how Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn will be able fill the 13,000 jobs it has promised for a new electronics factory in southeastern Wisconsin.

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Monroe-based Klondike Cheese has raised its starting pay from $10 to $13 an hour, but still can't keep employees.

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Brett Rechek has handed out his card to restaurant servers because good employees are harder to find.

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