Most counties in Wisconsin have fewer children than they did five years ago, with some of the biggest declines occurring in counties in northern Wisconsin, according to new population figures released by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The decrease in the number of children has led to declining enrollment in many rural school districts, presenting those districts with a host of financial challenges that stem from trying to pay for fixed costs with diminished resources.
Between 2010 and 2015, the number of children in Wisconsin declined by about 42,000, from 1.34 million to 1.30 million, for a decline of 3.2%.
The decline was most severe in the northern part of the state, with virtually every county in the north experiencing a drop in the number of children. The counties with the largest declines in percentage terms between 2010 and 2015 included:
- Adams County, -16.0%;
- Iron County, -15.5%;
- Lincoln County, -14.1%;
- Bayfield County, -13.3%; and
- Rusk County, -11.9%.
Despite Delay in Debt Payments, Budget Remains Very Tight
An annual budget report issued yesterday has a little bit of good news for the state, but also disappointing news. The bottom line is that the state’s budget balance grew this year, but by less than the budget bill was counting on. As a result, it could be difficult to keep this year’s budget in the black if tax revenue continues to fall short of the expected level. [See the update below about the new tax collection figures.]
The new Annual Fiscal Report shows that Wisconsin finished the 2015-16 fiscal year with a balance of almost $314 million. Although that’s pretty good news, it’s also a bit disappointing because even though the balance grew by $87 million this year, the budget bill had assumed the state would have about $77 million more in its balance at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year. Read more
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as FoodShare in Wisconsin, helps Wisconsin families put food on the table. But we know now that it accomplishes much more than that.
Research increasingly shows that SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, can ward against the long-term effects on children of experiencing poverty, abuse or neglect, parental substance abuse or mental illness, and exposure to violence — events that can take a toll on their well-being as adults. As a new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report finds, SNAP helps form a strong foundation of health and well-being for low-income children by lifting millions of families out of poverty, improving food security, and helping improve health and academic achievement with long-lasting consequences.
It’s doing all that across Wisconsin. SNAP is improving our children’s futures.
Workers at food banks see first-hand the boost that SNAP gives to children and families. “After a good job, SNAP is the second best hunger fighting tool in our toolbox,” said David Lee of Feeding Wisconsin. Read more
New data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association show that the federal health care reform law has had the desired effect of causing a sharp drop in uncompensated care. That’s great news because much of the cost of uncompensated care for people who are uninsured gets shifted to other patients and contributes to higher rates for people with insurance.
The reduced spending for uncompensated care – which is the total of charity care and bad debt – also has the benefit of creating a great opportunity for hospitals to make upstream investments that promote public health and alleviate some of the factors causing severe health disparities.
The new data demonstrate that uncompensated care expenses borne by Wisconsin hospitals have dropped precipitously since 2013, as key parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were being implemented – including the new insurance Marketplace and the expansion of coverage for childless adults. After those provisions had been in place for two years, total uncompensated care fell in Wisconsin by $534 million in fiscal year 2015, a drop of 36.8 percent from the 2013 level. Read more
Republicans who control the U.S. House of Representatives have proposed a budget framework that would raise the incomes of millionaires while cutting services for families and individuals with low and moderate incomes. The leader of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, represents a Wisconsin district that includes the cities of Kenosha, Racine, and Janesville.
The budget framework, called A Better Way, includes an emphasis on cutting taxes for people with very high incomes. According to an analysis by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, the GOP House tax plan would:
- Cut taxes for millionaires by an average of $330,000 per household in 2017, with their after-tax incomes rising by 15%. In contrast, the middle fifth of households by income would receive an average tax cut of $260, boosting their after-tax income by just 0.5%;
- Cut taxes for the top 0.1% of the population by income – a group with an average income of more than $3.7 million – by an average of $1.3 million per household in 2017, increasing their after-tax income by 17%; and
- Cut taxes for millionaires by $2.6 trillion over the next decade, forty times the $56 billion in tax cuts that the middle fifth of taxpayers would receive.
Wisconsin prisons are over capacity and cannot house the additional inmates that incarcerated under a new law toughening penalties for repeat drunk driving, according to state officials. To address the lack of space, the Department of Corrections recently proposed spending $40 million over the next two years to expand contracts with local governments to house state prisoners. The new costs should spur lawmakers to take a hard look at corrections costs and implement strategies proven to reduce prison populations as well as the costs to taxpayers and communities.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a law increasing the severity of the offense of the fourth and subsequent instances of driving while intoxicated. The change means that more people will be sent to prison for repeat instances of drunk driving; the Department of Corrections estimates the new law will increase the number of inmates in the state prison system by 458 inmates at the end of 2017, and by 1,205 inmates at the end of 2018. Read more
Can You Hear Me Now? How about Now? Wisconsin Residents Again Voice Support for Raising Minimum Wage
Half of Wisconsin residents support a very large increase in Wisconsin’s minimum wage that would more than double what the lowest-paid workers earn, according to a new Marquette University poll. Yet Wisconsin lawmakers have yet to show any inclination they consider it a priority to make sure the lowest-paid workers in Wisconsin get a raise.
This isn’t the first time that Wisconsin residents have shown their support for increasing the minimum wage. In 2014, voters in 13 Wisconsin counties and cities had the opportunity to vote on a referendum asking lawmakers to raise the minimum wage – and every one of the referendums passed. Past polls by Marquette University have also shown that large majorities want the minimum wage raised.
What’s different about this poll is that it gauged support for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, more than double Wisconsin’s current minimum wage of $7.25. Past Marquette University polls asked about increasing the minimum to $10.10 per hour or did not identify a specific increase in the minimum wage. Read more
Counties in rural northeast Wisconsin send as many people to prison for their size as the urban counties in southeast Wisconsin, according to newly-released figures on prison admissions. High prison admission rates from some rural Wisconsin counties are part of a national pattern in which people from small counties are as likely or more likely to go to prison than people from large counties.
Milwaukee County sends more people to prison for the size of its population than any other Wisconsin county, with 26.4 prison admissions in 2014 per 10,000 residents, according to an analysis in the New York Times. But some rural counties in northeast Wisconsin send almost as many people to prison for their size as Milwaukee County. The five counties with the next highest prison admission rates after Milwaukee County are:
- Forest County, with 26.3 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Marinette County, 25.4 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Kenosha County, 25.2 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Racine County, 24.4 prison admissions per 10,000 residents; and
- Langlade County, 22.2 prison admissions per 10,000 residents.
Poverty Remains Well above Pre-recession Level, and Extreme Disparities Continue
In many respects, the national and Wisconsin data released today by the Census Bureau is much better than I dared hope for, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be popping any champagne corks today. A closer analysis of the data reveals that most Wisconsinites are still making less than they did before the Great Recession, and our state continues to have extreme economic disparities based on race. Read more
Uninsured Rate Declines Sharply Nationally and in Wisconsin
New data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the federal health care reform law has been extremely effective in reducing the number of people who are uninsured, both nationally and here in Wisconsin. The new figures also bring very good news on national improvements relating to income and poverty.
The number of Wisconsinites who do not have health insurance fell sharply during the first two years of implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to the new data from the American Community Survey (ACS), 195,000 fewer Wisconsin residents were uninsured last year than in 2013, a decline of 37.6%.
The national ACS data show that the number of Americans without health insurance fell by more than a third from 2013 to 2015, and the percentage who are uninsured is now at an all-time low. That reflects a drop in the uninsured population of almost 7 million last year, on top of an improvement of about 8.5 million in 2014, when key parts of the health care reform law took effect. Read more