A Decade in the Wrong Direction: Wisconsin Student Poverty Rate Increases for the 10th Consecutive Year
A recent release from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction reports upsetting news concerning the state’s student poverty rate. The percentage of Wisconsin children representing low-income families has increased for yet another year.
In the 2013-14 school year 43.3 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. Although this is only an increase of one-tenth of a percentage from the previous academic year, it is important to note that this pattern of seemingly small increases over the past decade has led to a near 14 percentage increase in the number of Wisconsin’s children who are from low-income families and thus, eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Students who are in families with an annual income that is less than 130% of the federal poverty level quality for free school meals, while students in families earning more than the 130% but less than 185% of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive reduced-price lunches. Read more
Fast food workers in Wisconsin are part of a national strike to rally for higher wages. Strikes took place in Milwaukee, Madison, Wausau, and other Wisconsin cities. Workers are advocating for a wage floor of $15 an hour.
New Federal Money Provides Chance to Close Large Hole in W-2 and Improve Child Care
Wisconsin got some good news from Washington over the last couple of months, in the form of supplemental federal funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and additional child care and development funds (CCDF). The plans for using part of that additional funding – $19.8 million from TANF and $3.8 million from CCDF – will be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) on May 6th. (The LFB paper can be found here.)
I’ve written numerous times over the past year or so about the fact that the biennial budget bill made very unrealistic assumptions about declining participation in the state’s welfare to work program, known as Wisconsin Works or W-2. The budget bill cut the W-2 appropriation and siphoned off TANF block grant funding by using it to supplant state funds for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read more
A worker in Wisconsin needs to earn more than twice the minimum wage to afford a typically-priced two-bedroom apartment, a new study has found. Wisconsin workers need to earn $14.76 an hour in order to afford the rent for a two-bedroom apartment. The state’s minimum wage is $7.25.
In some cities in Wisconsin, the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment is even higher. For example, in Kenosha, an hourly wage of $18.65 is needed to afford a typically-priced two-bedroom apartment. That means even two minimum-wage workers in Kenosha who work full time the whole year could not rent a two-bedroom apartment without having housing costs exceed 30% of their income. Other metropolitan areas in Wisconsin including Madison, Milwaukee-Waukesha, and Janesville, have housing costs that require an hourly wage that exceeds twice the minimum wage of $7.25/hour.
Unlike housing costs, the minimum wage has been frozen since 2009. That means that as rents go up, workers earning the lowest wages have increasing difficulty making ends meet. Read more
Early investments in children can help overcome the effects of poverty and income inequality that reduce opportunity for many Americans. But too many parents, particularly low-income ones, are forced to choose between their jobs and making the kinds of investments in children that can last a lifetime.
Workplace flexibility and access to paid leave are basic workplace benefits that help keep parents in the workforce while allowing them to be responsive to the needs of their families. But as this op-ed piece in the New York Times points out, few low-income workers have access to those basic workplace benefits. The lack of these benefits undercuts economic mobility, making it harder for the children of today’s low-income workers to achieve their full potential.
Only 15% of the lowest-paid workers have access to paid time off in case of illness, or to care for a sick family member, compared to nearly 8 out of 10 of the highest paid workers. Read more
Fate of the Federal Lifeline for Long-term Job-seekers Still Uncertain
Ten U.S. Senators announced today that they have reached a deal for restoring federal unemployment benefits for about 2 million people who have lost those benefits since the end of 2013. The compromise would extend the expired program through the end of May, and would make the restored benefits retroactive to the beginning of the year. That would be very welcome new for many jobless workers and their families who are struggling with one of the harshest winters in decades.
The deal appears to have at least 60 votes, which would make it immune from the filibusters that have stymied other efforts in the Senate to restore the federal lifeline for the long-term unemployed. Although the prospects for passage in the Senate now look very good, its chances in the House are unclear. Some House conservatives quickly condemned the bill today. Read more
Unemployment of Six Months or More Climbs by 203,000 in February
The new employment numbers released Friday provide further evidence of the need to restore the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program for the long-term unemployed. Although there was a little bit of positive news relating to total employment levels, the new data illustrate that the modest job growth has not eased the crisis facing the long-term unemployed. For example:
- the total number of jobless workers who have been unemployed for at least six months grew significantly in February, climbing by 203,000 to 3.8 million people;
- the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.7%; and
- the labor force participation rate is one-half a percentage point below where it was one year ago.
Federal unemployment benefits for people who have been unemployed more than six months were cut off at the end of December. One argument made by the supporters of that decision is that eliminating the EUC program would reduce the jobless rate by giving the unemployed increased incentive to find work. Read more
The FY 2015 budget proposal unveiled by the President this week addresses an issue that many politicians, researchers and commentators across the political spectrum have recently been talking about – providing assistance to low-income working adults who don’t have dependent children. We were very pleased to see the part of his budget that would help that long-overlooked population by making more “childless” workers eligible for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and increasing the small credit for those who are already eligible.
The EITC encourages and rewards work, offsets federal payroll and income taxes, and boosts living standards. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) points out: “Next to Social Security, the EITC combined with the refundable portion of the CTC [child tax credit] constitutes the nation’s most powerful anti-poverty program.” However, the federal EITC currently provides little or no benefit for adults who don’t have dependent children, and the Wisconsin EITC doesn’t apply to that population. Read more
Congress has failed to extend federal emergency jobless benefits, harming tens of thousands of jobless workers in Wisconsin and the businesses that depend on them as customers. Since federal benefits were abruptly cut off at the end of 2013, 35,000 jobless workers in Wisconsin have been cut off or denied access to federal unemployment benefits so far.
Tiny Piece of Projected Surplus Could Mitigate Recent Tax Increases on Families and Seniors with Low Incomes
Many of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable families and elderly adults would not get much help from the Governor’s plan for the projected state surplus. That could change if the Legislature were to use a small fraction of the surplus to undo recent cuts to the Homestead Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.