How Immigrants Could Be A Solution To Workforce Shortage In The State, Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act, The “Cheesehead Revolution” And The State Of Wisconsin Conservatism

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Congress has passed a new law that allows some Hmong- and Laotian-American veterans to be buried in U.S. national cemeteries. We find out more about what the impact of the new law. We also talk about how more immigrants could be a solution to workforce shortages in the state and discuss the state of Wisconsin conservatism.

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  • Increased Immigration May Offer Solution To Worker Shortage

    While calls to curb immigration remain a part of the national rhetoric, with Wisconsin’s record low unemployment rate, more immigration may be necessary for the economy to grow, says David Haynes, editorial page editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    For a second month, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate sits at 2.9 percent, it’s lowest since July 1999. Combine that with an estimated 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day nationwide and a competitive market among employers, and the state may struggle to fill open jobs, he said.

    “If you look at 15-20 years down the road, unless we make some changes and attract more people of some kind, we’re going to have large swaths of the state that are in retirement,” he said. “That is a problem for states in the upper Midwest, Wisconsin isn’t alone.”

    Those jobs largely fall within the manufacturing industry, Haynes said. About 1 in 4 Wisconsin manufacturing workers are at least 55 years old, which equals out to about 125,000 workers in a key industry.

    Those issues are intensified in Wisconsin because of a lower-than-average national birth rate — and struggles to attract workers from other states, Haynes said.

    That’s where immigration comes into play to help fill those gaps, he said.

    “Immigrant labor tends to be younger people who replenish the workforce,” Haynes said. “We have a workforce that’s aging pretty rapidly … and that’s a real advantage of immigrants. And you have to keep in mind — and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has said this — you really need immigrant labor at the top end, highly skilled, and also the lower end, lower skilled labor.”

    Gov. Scott Walker has argued that Foxconn, and its potential to employ up to 13,000 people, could be a magnet for attracting workers. Though Haynes said it could face challenges to even build the site, citing the struggles the Milwaukee Buck’s Arena has faced to fill construction jobs.

    Yet despite record-high rates of employment, wages are still stagnant, which leads some to question whether there is a true labor crunch now, or if it’s something to be more concerned about down the line, he said.

    “Marc Levine at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who has studied the labor market here in Milwaukee for many years, isn’t convinced there’s a labor crunch because as he’s said, if you have one, you’d actually see those wages rising and we’re not seeing that,” Haynes said.

    Employers are reluctant to raise wages, in part because of off-shore competition in countries where wages are lower, so some companies are shifting to paying bonuses instead, he said.

    Haynes doesn’t see only one solution to the issue. But immigration reform could be a necessary part of the solution to address worker shortages. Polling from the Pew Research Center shows most Americans support a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.

    “It’s easy to block a bill,” he said. “And keep in mind, immigration is not cost free, and those costs are not borne by the federal government so much as they’re born by state and local governments. But I do think this job crunch that appears to be on the horizon could be the motivating factor to get legislators finally off the coach on this one.”

    The key thing is figuring out a way to reform the immigration process to give immigrants living in the country illegally a road to legalization, he said.

    “A lot of these folks are working, but they’re working in jobs and being paid in cash and they’re not really working up to their full potential,” Haynes said.

  • Increased Immigration As An Answer To Wisconsin's Competitive Labor Market

    With Baby Boomers retiring, low unemployment rates and competition for workers in Wisconsin, we’ll look at the idea that more immigration to the state could become a necessity.

  • The Significance Of The Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act

    The Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act was signed into law by President Trump later last month. We’ll find out what it means for Southeast Asian people who fought alongside US troops in the Secret War in Laos as part of the larger Vietnam conflict.

  • Is The 'Cheesehead Revolution' Over?

    In 2010, three men from Wisconsin were becoming political stars on the national stage.

    Scott Walker had just been elected governor of Wisconsin. Paul Ryan was building his profile as a U.S. congressman, later tapped as Mitt Romney’s presidential running mate. And Reince Priebus was chair of the state Republican Party, and later, the national party.

    Their influence on the political scene — which Walker and Priebus themselves dubbed the “Cheesehead Revolution” — made popular a new kind of Reagan Republicanism in Wisconsin that swept the state in the beginning of this decade.

    “They were in some ways conventional conservatives,” says Craig Gilbert, Washington bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But what they did, particularly Ryan and Walker, is they really pushed the envelope in trying to realize some fairly bold policy goals that had maybe been conservative goals in the past but people didn’t really think they were achievable.”

    But the band is breaking up. Does that mean the “Cheesehead Revolution” is over, too?

    Ryan announced last month he would retire from Congress after finishing out his term. Priebus left the White House last summer after six months as chief of staff.

    Walker alone remains. He’s up for re-election this fall.

    As Gilbert writes in a recent piece, change is part of politics. But the “Cheesehead Revolution” was conceived in a different era.

    The cracks started showing, Gilbert says, when the Romney-Ryan presidential ticket lost both nationally and in Wisconsin in 2012.

    “I think in the case of Paul Ryan, the jury has always been out about whether some of the boldest policies he was pursuing were popular in a broad sense,” Gilbert said.

    Then, Walker ran for president during the 2016 election. He at first seemed like a budding star, a front-runner. That is, until Donald Trump became a candidate.

    Walker dropped out of the race in September 2015, “utterly eclipsed” by Trump, Gilbert said.

    Although Walker’s policies in Wisconsin often pushed the envelope, and he was known for sparring openly with Democrats, he was also a “darling” of the Republican Party, Gilbert said. Compared to Trump, he was a conventional conservative. And voters wanted the outsider.

    Priebus, as head of the Republican National Committee and then White House chief of staff, wasn’t an elected official. But his reputation also changed when held up to Trump’s.

    “Oddly enough, because Trump was such an outsider, Reince Priebus was seen coming into the Trump presidency as like, the ‘Washington insider,’” Gilbert said. “When really, he wasn’t even a Washington insider.”

    Priebus actually spent most of his career climbing the ranks of the party in Wisconsin, until becoming RNC chair in 2011.

    Why did the three fall in the Trump era? It was largely both a mismatch in style and substance, Gilbert said. Trump was a departure from conservative orthodoxy. But he also, perhaps, had a different broader vision for the Republican Party than Ryan, Walker or Priebus.

    For example, after Romney lost the presidential election in 2012, Priebus commissioned a post-mortem on his defeat. One of its conclusions was the Republican Party needed to do a better job reaching out to Latino voters, and needed to find a comprehensive solution for immigration reform.

    “That was done before Donald Trump ended up taking the party really in the opposite direction,” Gilbert said.

    The jury is still out on Walker’s staying power. After Democratically backed Rebecca Dallett was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April, Walker warned of a Democratic “blue wave.”

    Gilbert points out that we don’t know who the Democratic gubernatorial nominee will be, or their chances of competing against Walker, nearing the end of his second four-year term.

    But he says Walker has made moves to appeal to more moderate voters, distancing himself from Trump.

    Come November, it will be up to voters to decide whether the “Cheesehead Revolution” has run its course, or if it’s here to stay.

  • Is The ‘Cheesehead Revolution’ Coming To An End?

    Reince Preibus resigned from his post as White House Chief of Staff last year, and in April House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he was retiring from Congress, saying he does not expect to run for office ever again. We talk to the Washington Bureau Chief at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the ‘Cheesehead Revolution’ in Wisconsin that helped the two rise to the national stage, and the political forces that may be bringing it to a close.

Episode Credits

  • Judith Siers-Poisson Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Rachael Vasquez Producer
  • David Haynes Guest
  • Chia Youyee Vang Guest
  • Craig Gilbert Guest

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