MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) – Wisconsin's unemployment rate of 12% in May marked a slight improvement, but numbers are still historically high.

However, the state chamber and manufacturers' association said there is still a workforce shortage.

Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development (DWD) said it is working to process more unemployment claims than ever before.

"DWD is working diligently to serve the people of Wisconsin," DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said. "Since March 15, 2020, DWD has received over 4 million weekly claims. To put this in perspective, the Department received approximately 1.6 million claims in all of 2019."

Even though unemployment is high, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) President Kurt Bauer said based on a recent survey some businesses are still having a hard time finding qualified workers.

“So you're talking about degreed positions, specialty certifications, and advanced degrees in engineering and that kind of thing,” Bauer said.

This was WMC's first survey in more than five years where workforce shortage wasn't the number one issue, but even with the high unemployment workforce shortage still ranked second.

“That probably makes some sense if you look at the $600 the federal government is paying people per week,” Bauer said. “Anecdotally, we have heard that has kept some people from going back to work so that might be a contributing factor.”

Bauer thinks there is a bigger reason though—long-term issues facing Wisconsin.

“I think it's the fact that, demographically, we have not been at replacement level birth rates since the 1990s, we've got more people leaving the state than coming in, so we've, bottom line, had, and will continue to have a worker shortage, and it's going to be a challenge for us as the economy improves,” Bauer said.

According to the survey of nearly 150 employers, regulations related to COVID-19 was the biggest public policy issue facing Wisconsin.

Though three-quarters of Wisconsin companies said COVID-19 and the state's safer at home order had a negative financial impact on their business, only 23% think they will end 2020 in the red.

“More than half of the businesses said that they were profitable in the first half of the year and project that they will be profitable in the second half of the year,” Bauer said. “That is a good sign for investment and of course hiring people back and getting the economy back running.”

CEOs from companies across Wisconsin take WMC's survey twice a year.

The second survey will be done closer to the end of the year to get a better idea of how COVID-19 impacted businesses.

The most-recent survey was conducted the last two weeks of June and is a representative sample of the WMC membership.

Other Findings:

  • 38% of respondents said COVID-19 regulations were the top public policy concern facing Wisconsin, followed by the labor shortage (16%) and high taxes (9%)
  • 27% of respondents said the national economy is the top business concern facing their company, followed by COVID-19 (20%) and labor availability (19%)
  • 31% of businesses plan to increase their number of employees in the next six months, while 20% plan to decrease and 45% will see no change
  • 68% of respondents approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as President, while 20% disapprove
  • 10% of respondents approve of the job Tony Evers is doing as Governor, while 79% disapprove

READ full survey results here