MADISON – Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) – the combined state chamber and manufacturers’ association – hosted a webinar on Wednesday to talk about the workforce advisory referendum, featuring former Gov. Tommy Thompson. The referendum, which asks if able-bodied childless adults should be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits, will be on the April 4 ballot statewide.
“If you can work, you should work. You shouldn’t get paid for not contributing,” said Gov. Thompson during the webinar. “If you’re capable, if you’re healthy, you should apply for work.”
Gov. Thompson, during his tenure as Wisconsin’s 42nd and longest-serving governor, pioneered Wisconsin Works, a nationally recognized welfare reform policy. Under Gov. Thompson’s leadership, the state’s welfare rolls were reduced nearly 90 percent, drastically improving the overall economy. Additionally, the state’s labor force participation rate peaked in the late nineties at nearly 75 percent.
“We were honored to have Gov. Tommy Thompson here with us today,” said WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer. “As a long-standing leader on this topic, Gov. Thompson is able to bring a depth of experience to our conversation about the referendum. As Wisconsin grapples with a severe worker shortage, it is imperative we find ways to increase our labor participation rate and encourage able-bodied adults to contribute to the economy.”
Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate is now the lowest it has been in recorded history, which exacerbates supply chain issues and historically high inflation. In manufacturing alone, tens of thousands of jobs are unfilled in the state, slowing down production. A recent WMC survey found that 85 % of employers can’t find the workers they need. The advisory referendum, while non-binding, was introduced by Republican lawmakers to gauge public opinion on workforce policy.