‘Workforce Initiative Package’ introduced by Callahan, fellow Republicans passes State Assembly

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

MADISON – A package of bills introduced by State Representative Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk) and several Legislative Republicans that aims to “assist with the ongoing employment crisis throughout the state” passed the State Assembly on Thursday, Feb. 17.


The “Workforce Initiative Package,” which includes a bill authored by Callahan, was introduced on Jan. 18.

Callahan’s proposal would “consider it fraud for any able-bodied adult on Medical Assistance (MA) between the ages of 18-65 without dependents to refuse work in a deceptive attempt to remain eligible for MA,” according to a release from Callahan’s office.

“An able-bodied adult without dependents who commits the conduct prohibited by the bill is ineligible for Medical Assistance benefits for six months following the Department of Health Services discovering the violation,” the bill states.

In a release, Callahan cited data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which show that Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate has declined by roughly 8% since the end of 1997, when it was at a peak of 74.5%. The state’s labor force participation rate was 66.4% in Dec. 2021, according to the data.

The national labor force participation rate has also fallen over the last roughly two decades.

Steven F. Hipple, an economist with the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wrote in the Monthly Labor Review in 2016 that “downward pressure” has been placed on the overall participation rate in recent years “as the baby-boom population has moved into age groups that generally exhibit low labor force participation.”

Hipple said the labor force participation of men and women 55 years and older rose from 2000 to 2009 and subsequently leveled off, noting that the plateau “could be attributed partially to the fact that the oldest baby boomers reached age 62 in 2008 and became eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.”

“From 2000 to 2015, most of the major demographic groups saw a decrease in labor force participation,” Hipple stated. “Teenagers experienced the largest drop in participation, which coincided with a rise in their school enrollment rate. Young adults 20 to 24 years also showed a decline in labor force participation, but the decrease was not as steep as that for teenagers. The labor force participation rate of women 25 to 54 years also fell, with the decrease more pronounced for women who did not attend college. The labor force participation rate of men 25 to 54 years continued its longterm decline. As in the past, the decrease in participation among men with less education was greater than that of men with more education.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), the state’s unemployment rate in was 2.8% in Dec. 2021. The total number of people who were counted as unemployed dropped to a record low of 86,200, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Callahan said that while the labor force participation rate in Wisconsin has been “steadily” declining, “public benefit usage has increased.”

“There are over 135,000 jobs listed on the Job Center of Wisconsin website right now, and yet, there are 100,000 more folks on BadgerCare today than before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Callahan stated. “We need to get these folks back into the workforce.”

Other bills in the package would tie unemployment benefits to the state unemployment rate and require the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) to implement a work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents to participate in the FoodShare program.

Legislation sponsored by State Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) would address “’ghosting’ employers by skipping a job interview,” according to a release from State Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield)’s office.

Under the bill, if an unemployment insurance claimant who is participating in a work search requirement schedule does not show up for a job interview, DWD would be “required to investigate and, if verified, deem the claimant ineligible for benefits that week.”

The release from Callahan’s office said the bills in the package “work together to promote accountability, prevent fraud and abuse in the state’s welfare system, reinforce independence from government-run welfare programs, and remove the disincentives currently keeping folks out of the workforce and encouraging a return-to-work.”

“This important legislation will go a long way to helping people enter or re-enter the workforce,” Callahan stated. “While the governor has continuously looked for ways to keep more folks on public benefits and keeping them over on the sidelines, our state’s employers desperately need more workers. My legislative Republican colleagues and I are working to actually solve Wisconsin’s problems, and will continue to do so.”

Following its passage in the State Assembly, the legislation package will move to the State Senate for consideration.

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