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
Proposed Changes Will Hurt the Elderly, Blind and Disabled, while Corporate Fraud Goes Unpunished
The Wisconsin Senate moved a step closer last week to passing a bill that has been described as combatting fraud or abuse in the FoodShare program, but which will do little, if anything, in that regard. In contrast to the progress of that legislation, as each day passes it looks less likely that the Senate will approve a bipartisan bill (AB 669) that could accomplish a great deal to halt benefit fraud by businesses.
AB 669, which was approved by a voice vote in the Assembly, would make it a felony to fraudulently obtain an economic development benefit from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). It would also allow WEDC to bring a civil action to recover damages for fraudulently obtained benefits. Although the lead Assembly author of the bill is a Republican (Rep. Kerkman), and it enjoyed broad support in the Assembly, AB 669 hasn’t even been given a public hearing in the Senate. Read more
The Earned Income Tax Credit helps working families all across the state, and gives an especially large boost to families in northern and rural Wisconsin, according to recently-released information from the state’s Department of Revenue.
The EITC is a tax credit that benefits working parents who are struggling to make ends meet. Receiving the credit is associated with a whole host of positive outcomes for children and families, including helping children do better in school, raising college attendance rates, and improving the health of family members.
The number of families in Wisconsin that are strengthened by the EITC is substantial. In 2014, 253,000 of the total 2.9 million tax returns filed in Wisconsin included the EITC. That translates to 753,000 people in Wisconsin living in families that received the EITC. Those families received $99.6 million in EITC credits for 2014 – money they could use to make investments that help them keep working and improve the economic security of their family, such as paying for car repairs or saving for their children’s college educations. Read more
Federal officials recently released the 2016 Federal Poverty Income Guidelines, better known as the federal poverty levels (FPL). States and the federal government use the guidelines to determine eligibility for many public assistance programs, such as Medicaid, BadgerCare and child care subsidies.
Our website has several tables showing the new poverty levels and how they relate to eligibility for various public benefits. In addition to showing the annual income figures, the tables convert those into monthly and hourly income. Read more
Proposal to Alleviate “Cliff Effects” Could Significantly Reduce Assistance for Many
Two legislative leaders have proposed a resolution that could result in very significant changes in public benefits, but we don’t know what those changes will be. The resolution that was introduced yesterday – as Senate Joint Resolution 102 and Assembly Joint Resolution 109 – may be scheduled for a floor vote next week without ever getting a public hearing, and after almost no opportunity for public input!
The stated objective of the resolution sounds good – alleviating the “cliff effects” in public benefit programs. In other words, the goal is to redesign public benefit programs so people don’t hit or fall off a “cliff” when their family income reaches the eligibility ceiling. Legislators in both parties and advocates for public assistance programs agree that that’s a very worthwhile objective. But there are good and bad ways to eliminate or reduce cliff effects (none of which are easy), and the vague resolution doesn’t indicate what solution(s) the authors have in mind. Read more
As the calendar turns to 2016 this Friday, the minimum wage will increase in 14 states and a number of cities, and two other states have enacted increases that take effect later in the year. Unfortunately, Wisconsin isn’t one of them. In fact, Wisconsin is one of the 21 states where the minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour and has been stuck at that amount since the last increase in the federal minimum, which was almost seven years ago.
Here are some examples of the 16 state minimum wage increases that take effect in 2016. (These figures are for the general minimum wage, which in many states does not apply to tipped employees.)
- Arkansas – The minimum wage will be $8.00 an hour in 2016 and $8.50 in 2017, compared to $7.50 in 2015.
- California and Massachusetts – $10.00 an hour (vs. $9.00 now)
- Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont – $9.60 an hour (from $9.00 or $9.15 now)
- Maryland – $8.75 an hour (from $8.00 in 2015, and increasing to $10.10 in 2018)
- Michigan – $8.50 an hour (from $8.15)
- Minnesota – $9.50 an hour (from $9.00)
- Nebraska – $9.00 an hour (compared to $8.00 in 2015)