Wisconsin's unemployment rate remains stagnant as debate over labor shortage continues

NOW: Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remains stagnant as debate over labor shortage continues

KENOSHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin's unemployment rate sat at 3.9 percent for the third straight month, according to the state's Department of Workforce Development.

The figures for June show the state's economic recovery has plateaued. The issue further highlights the ongoing worker shortage in the state. Republicans and business lobbies point to the extra $300 in federal unemployment benefits as the reason for the issue.

But Governor Tony Evers maintains his position to not eliminate those extra benefits, claiming long-term, structural unemployment that existed before the pandemic is what looms over the state.

"We can't pretend that a workforce shortage that existed in Scott Walker's time and still exists today is going to be gone tomorrow," Evers said.

The governor on Wednesday unveiled a $130 million grant program to address worker shortages in the state. Critics said the plan would take too long to address immediate labor concerns. Evers noted the plan is not a quick fix but rather a way to address both short-term and long-term areas.

"It is going to take some time, some of it we're going to get it off the ground immediately around navigators, but at the end of the day we'll get money to regional outfits and nonprofits by sometime this fall," Evers said.

Republicans hope to continue to pressure Evers to act to do more, especially around the extra federal benefits.

"We need everyone who is able-bodied back into the workforce," Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R - Salem) told CBS 58. "We do need to come together to find solutions to help grow our economy and make it stronger."

Economists say there is no one silver bullet to address the labor shortage in the state. But they point to the extra unemployment benefits as the quickest trigger to bring some people back into the workforce.

But with the governor holding on the position of the benefits, experts believe the current pattern of employment in the state will continue until later in the year when schools open up, vaccination rates pick up and extra unemployment benefits are off.

"Without substantial change here in the state, I'm not expecting a whole lot to change until fall, until we get to September," Noah Williams, an economist at UW-Madison told CBS 58 in an interview. "With things easing both on the childcare front and with the enhanced benefits in the fall we may see more of a pickup then."

Wisconsin's unemployment rate sits below the national average of 5.9 percent.

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