Alarming News in Wisconsin Poverty Report
While we read glowing headlines of “record low unemployment,” a definitive new report by one of the top poverty research centers in the country reveals that Wisconsin children and the most vulnerable among us are falling further behind. According to the most recent available data, Wisconsin poverty increased by over 10% and child poverty increased by a shocking 20%.
It is not just that poor families are not sharing in prosperity, things are actually getting worse! This alarming news is further proof that without a deliberate strategy to lift children and low income families out of poverty, supposed “economic good times” will not lift all boats.
It is important to understand that this alarming new research is coming from the most respected poverty research center in the state. The UW Institute for Research on Poverty is one of the premier institutions in the nation researching poverty and its impacts. Each year for the last ten years they have published a report examining poverty in Wisconsin.
This year, the title is: “Wisconsin Poverty Report: Progress Against Poverty Stalls in 2016. In this report the data on poverty is assessed in a number of different ways: 1) they look at three different measures of poverty, 2) they assess overall poverty as well as child poverty, and 3) they analyze poverty geographically on a county by county basis.
The most complete measure of poverty is called the Wisconsin Poverty Measure (WPM). It is a better measure than the official poverty measure because, in addition to the earnings and cash benefits that are considered income by the official measure, the WPM also includes noncash benefits and taxes. In that way it includes government programs designed to alleviate poverty in the poverty calculation, which the official measure does not.
The title of the report says that progress stalled, but in fact it has reversed. After 2 years of decline, between 2015 and 2016 the overall WPM poverty rate went up from 10.8% to 11.8%, a 9% increase in just one year. Even more troubling was that the child poverty rate increased from 10% in 2015 to 12% in 2016, a 20% increase. The WPM for children remains nearly 5 percentage points below the official poverty rate for children of 16.9%. This means that the tax credits and noncash benefits that the WPM includes (but the official poverty rate does not) are effective in decreasing poverty.
It is significant that this increase in poverty in Wisconsin happened at a period when overall employment in Wisconsin was expanding. While Wisconsin was adding jobs at a rate slower than many of our neighboring states and the nation as a whole, we did add jobs in 2016. That poverty increased in 2016 demonstrates that the economic expansion is not helping those at the bottom of the economic ladder. The vast majority of people living in poverty are part of working families, and many work multiple jobs. The problem is that the wages they earn, and the number of hours they are able to work, keep these working families in poverty.
The Wisconsin Poverty Report reinforces the need to adopt the goals of the End Child Poverty Campaign. First, we must adopt the goal of halving the level of child poverty, and racial disparities in child poverty, over the next ten years. Second, in order to do that, we must implement policies and programs at the scale necessary to achieve that goal. And third, we must hold ourselves accountable by tracking our progress toward achieving that goal.
In order to achieve our three part goal, we have three requests of you:
- Sign the petition to adopt the goals
- Ask three friends to sign the petition
- Ask your elected officials and candidates for elected office to support the goals of the campaign and sign the petition.