Taking a Look at TANF on its 20th Anniversary
The welfare reform block grant program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) turns 20 on August 22nd, and that anniversary is not a cause for celebration among advocates for low-income families. Some conservatives have also criticized it, such as Peter Germanis, who wrote that TANF “has failed to provide an adequate safety net or an effective welfare-to-work program.”
The block grant gives states a lot more flexibility, but also significantly less funding and a lot less accountability, and the result has been a sharp decline in support for the families that the federal funds are supposed to assist. The following graph illustrates that the number of Wisconsin families who are receiving direct cash assistance – either for child-only cases or for participation in work programs under Wisconsin Works (W-2) – has dropped to a monthly average of less than 18,700 this year. Read more
Wisconsin’s commitment to affordable child care for working families has waned in recent years, making it more difficult for child care providers to work towards improving the quality of child care, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.
Many parents with low incomes wouldn’t be able to afford to work without the child care subsidies provided through the Wisconsin Shares program. In 2015, Wisconsin Shares served 46,000 children each month, on average. But the number of children served by Wisconsin Shares has fallen considerably in the past few years, declining 21% between 2008 and 2015. The decline in rural areas has been the most severe.
There has been an even steeper decline in payments to child care providers over this period, with payments dropping by 36% since 2008. Payment rates have been nearly frozen over this period, meaning that inflation has chipped away at the amounts paid to providers, and the state has implemented policies that result in lower payments to providers. Read more
Anti-poverty Programs Lift about 830,000 Wisconsinites above Poverty Line
Speaker Ryan and other conservatives are calling for sweeping changes that would seriously weaken safety net programs, and a core argument for those changes is way off the mark.
In early June, Ryan and other House Republicans issued a report about reforming public assistance programs that contends that despite decades of substantial federal spending for safety net programs, “the official poverty rate in 2014 (14.8%) was no better than it was in 1966 (14.7%), when many of these programs started.”
At first blush, that sounds like a compelling argument, but it’s a red herring. Speaker Ryan’s claim is based on the official poverty measure, which seems logical. But that gauge of poverty, established by the Census Bureau in the 1960s, measures cash income only and excludes many forms of public assistance. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out about this poverty measure:
“…it ignores virtually all anti-poverty assistance created or expanded over the past half century, while counting the main form of assistance cut sharply over this period – cash assistance for families with children.
White residents of the Milwaukee metropolitan area have significant more access to mortgage lending than black and Hispanic residents, according to a new report that highlights how lending patterns affect different communities.
Whites represent 70% of the population in the Milwaukee area, according to the report from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, yet received 81% of the mortgage loans made in 2014. African Americans are 16% of the population but received only 4% of the loans. Hispanics represent nine percent of the area’s population, and received four percent of the total loans. The Milwaukee metropolitan area includes Milwaukee County as well as Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee Counties.
Milwaukee-area residents of color are less likely than whites to apply for a mortgage in the first place, and they are less likely to have their application approved. Lenders approved 71% of mortgages sought by white residents of the Milwaukee area in 2014, compared to 47% for black residents, 59% for Hispanic residents, and 66% for Asian residents. Read more
Low-paid workers in various locations across the country got a raise this month, as increases in the minimum wage took effect in several states, counties, and cities. However, workers in Wisconsin were not among those benefitting from an increase in the minimum wage.
Locations with increases in the minimum wage include:
- Oregon, where the minimum wage increased to $9.75 per hour in urban counties and $9.50 in rural counties. The minimum will gradually increase to $12.50 to $14.75 depending on the county in 2022.
- Maryland, where the lowest-paid hourly workers now earn at least $8.75 an hour. Maryland’s minimum wage is set to slowly increase to $10.10 in 2018.
- Los Angeles, where low-paid workers will now get at least $10.50 an hour – and six days of paid leave a year. The minimum wage in Los Angeles is set to increase gradually to $15 per hour in 2020.
- Chicago, where workers will now earn at least $10.50 an hour.
Wisconsin’s middle class, while still one of the largest in the country, is shrinking. Most of the loss has occurred as people fell out of the middle class to the lower income tier, rather than climbing into the upper tier.
In Wisconsin, 62.5% of residents were in the middle class in 2000, the second largest share of any state, according to a new report from Pew Research Center. By 2014, Wisconsin’s middle class had shrunk to 57.2% of residents and Wisconsin’s rank for the size of our middle class had dropped to 4th.
Wisconsin needs a strong middle class in order to thrive economically. Businesses need a large middle class, bolstered by broad-based income growth, to generate customers. The middle class is at the heart of Wisconsin’s workforce, and decisions made by the middle class drive public investments in Wisconsin’s schools and communities. Pew defines the middle class this way: “Middle-income Americans are adults whose size-adjusted household income is two-thirds to double the national median size-adjusted household income.”
The fact that Wisconsin’s middle class is shrinking is a problem, one that we share with nearly all the other states. Read more
An Increased EITC for Childless Adults Would Reduce Poverty and Enjoys Bipartisan Support
Income inequality has been on the minds of many voters during the presidential primaries. If you think it’s only a concern of Democrats, take a look at the results of the most recent “Wisconsin Survey” – a St. Norbert’s poll conducted for Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television. The survey last week of 616 registered Wisconsin voters found that 66% favor “increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and large corporations in order to help reduce income inequality in the U.S.,” compared to only 28% who said they were opposed.
There are lots of different ways to adjust taxes (and labor policy) to reduce income inequality. Unfortunately, most of those – such as closing corporate tax loopholes and increasing the minimum wage – have little chance in Congress right now. But one promising policy option that does have a chance is to provide a significant increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for adults who don’t have dependent children. Read more
Happy Pi Day! Today’s date is 3-14, a close approximation of the pi value of 3.141592…
The best way to celebrate Pi Day is – news flash! – to eat some pie.
The second best way of observing Pi Day is to enjoy some delicious pie charts. Sure, pie charts don’t go nearly as well with ice cream as the real thing, but they’re still enjoyable.
Here are five pie charts that tell the story of poverty and economic hardship in Wisconsin, and how the share of the pie that goes to the middle class is shrinking.
Pie Chart #1: Highest earners capture nearly all of the income growth in Wisconsin
Wisconsin families and businesses can’t thrive when income growth is nearly non-existent for everyone except for those at the very top. The share of income in Wisconsin going to the top 1% is at its highest level ever, widening the chasm between the very highest earners and everyone else, and posing a hardship for Wisconsin’s families, communities, and businesses. Read more
“Benefit cliffs” in public assistance programs have suddenly become a pressing topic for legislators who contend that safety net programs penalize work and deter people from taking higher paying jobs. A new report analyzes those arguments and shows that the structure of public benefits is not the deterrent to work that some people seem to believe. It explains why eliminating benefit cliffs could hurt substantially more people than it would help.
In the Wisconsin legislature, Republican leaders have put a resolution relating to cliff effects on a fast track. Their open-ended proposal, AJR 109, would direct two state agencies (DHS and DCF) to develop plans for reducing or eliminating benefit cliffs. It was approved by a voice vote in the Assembly within a week of being introduced, without ever getting a public hearing, and it now awaits a vote in the Senate (also without a hearing).
[Update: The state Senate finished up its session on March 15 and did not take up AJR 109, so the proposal is dead for this year. Read more