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
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.
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
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
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)
Wisconsin Should Do More to Build On This Success
The federal government made a big difference in the lives of struggling people in 2014, showing the powerful role governments can play in creating opportunity and helping people build a more secure future. An analysis of new data from the Census Bureau demonstrates the success of federal programs and underscores the need for Wisconsin to do more to build on that success through its own opportunity-expanding policies, such as increasing the minimum wage and reversing cuts to the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.
Almost one in five Wisconsin children live in families that made so little in 2014 that they were below the federal poverty level, according to new Census Bureau data released last week – meaning that they couldn’t afford basic necessities. The poverty level is currently $11,770 for a single person and $24,250 for a family of four. Fortunately, key safety net supports are keeping millions from living in dire circumstances, something not captured in the official poverty measure. Read more
Wisconsin Needs to Make Investments that Help Put People on the Path to Economic Security
Many Wisconsin families continue to struggle to make ends meet, according to new figures released today. We have our work cut out for us to make sure that all Wisconsin families have the opportunity to build a better, more secure future for themselves.
Five years into the nation’s recovery from recession, Wisconsin’s working families remain considerably worse off than they were before. Nearly three-quarters of a million Wisconsinites lived in poverty in 2014, according to today’s release of new Census data, which is 150,000 more than in 2007. Poverty is more prevalent among children than adults, with about 1 in 6 Wisconsin kids in poverty last year. Read more