(The Center Square) – Milwaukee bus managers have canceled their most popular summer services because of a lack of drivers, just days after Gov. Tony Evers once again said there’s no evidence that generous unemployment benefits are keeping people from working.
Evers said on UPFRONT on WISN TV on Sunday that he is likely to veto a plan to withdraw Wisconsin from the enhanced federal unemployment program early because he hasn’t seen any evidence that the extra $300 in benefits the program provides each week is keeping people at home.
The Milwaukee County Transit System announced on Sunday it is canceling bus service to Summerfest in September. On Monday, MCTS announced it is canceling service to the Wisconsin State Fair. System managers say they do not have enough bus drivers to run the extra and extremely popular routes.
"Unfortunately, this summer’s activities come amidst a tight labor market that's hampering the transportation, governmental, tourism, restaurant, and service industries – as well as many other businesses," MCTS managers said in a statement.
The county’s transit system is 60 bus drivers short, despite a starting wage of $20.77 per hour, which comes to just over $41,000 a year.
Wisconsin’s largest business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce on Monday wrote a letter to Evers saying it’s not just the bus system that cannot find workers.
“Drive down any Main Street or through any industrial park in Wisconsin to see the record number of ‘Help Wanted’ and ‘Now Hiring’ signs as proof that businesses are desperate for workers,” WMC’s Scott Manley wrote.
Manley also included pieces of data that he says the governor has missed:
“A University of Wisconsin-Madison economist last week [said] that ‘the labor market in Wisconsin is tighter now than it was in the few months before the pandemic.’ While this is due to a number of factors, the enhanced unemployment benefits are one of them. Additionally, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco said that the $300 per week supplemental was a ‘noticeable’ contributor to the workforce shortage. The San Francisco Fed also said one in seven people offered a job would turn it down because of the benefits - that is 14 percent of the potential workforce that is actively sitting on the sidelines. Lastly, research from the Indeed Hiring Lab showed that job searches experienced an uptick of five percent following the announcement that states were going to end the enhanced benefits. This shows at least some people were encouraged to get back on the job knowing the benefits were going away,” Manley wrote.
Gov. Evers said while there may be a worker shortage, he doesn’t know if ending enhanced unemployment benefits will move many workers back into the workforce.
“How many people are sitting at home when they should be working and getting $300 and being lazy?” Evers said. “There’s no data to say this is going to fill 20 jobs or 20,000 jobs. I’m reluctant to take a very important benefit away from people there’s no data to support.”
Manley said if Wisconsin doesn’t do something to encourage people to get back to work soon, some businesses will close for good.