WMC survey finds nearly 9 in 10 businesses struggling to find workers

Last updated on June 25th, 2021 at 01:38 pm

Nearly nine in 10 businesses surveyed by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce say they are having trouble hiring new employees, according to data released by the organization Thursday.

The survey, which included 266 employers from a representative sample of WMC membership, found 86% of employers are having difficulty hiring.

Employers have been reporting this difficulty for several months as the economy has ramped up following the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Many business owners have pointed to enhanced unemployment benefits offering an additional $300 per week as the primary reason.

The WMC survey found a slightly more nuanced picture, with 35% of those having trouble hiring blaming unemployment benefits that are “too generous.” Another 30% said there is a lack of qualified applicants while 26% cited a general labor shortage.

Among those having trouble hiring, 61% said they are having difficulty finding skilled labor, 52% said they’re having difficulty at the entry level and 41% said they are having difficulty with unskilled labor.

After jumping from 3.2% to 14.8% when the pandemic hit in March and April of 2020, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate worked its way down to 4% by the end of the year. It has been at 3.9% the last two months.

The state’s total labor force is slightly larger – up about 9,300 people – compared to just before the pandemic, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, total employment is down nearly 9,000 while the number of people classified as unemployed is up by 18,200 compared to February 2020.

WMC’s survey found 26% of employers expect to increase their wages 3% to 3.5% this year, another 20% expect to increase them 3.6% to 4%, and 26% expect increases of more than 4.1%.

Respondents also said the top public policy issue facing the state is the labor shortage and lack of qualified applicants with 72% picking that option. The next highest ranking issue was high taxes and excessive regulation, both at 7%.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He spent also five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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