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
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
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