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
Wisconsin residents strongly favor raising taxes on the wealthy and large corporations to reduce income inequality, a new poll shows. But instead of raising taxes on these groups, Wisconsin lawmakers have taken steps to give significant tax breaks to taxpayers with high incomes and corporations.
Two-thirds (66%) of survey respondents support raising taxes on the rich and big businesses, according to the spring 2016 Wisconsin Survey conducted by the Strategic Research Institute at St. Norbert College. Another 28% of respondents did not support raising taxes, and seven percent weren’t sure.
The poll results show that Wisconsin residents are alarmed about growing levels of income inequality and the widening chasm between the highest earners and everyone else. Wisconsin residents are right to be concerned. The share of income in Wisconsin going to the top 1% has reached its highest level ever, exceeding even levels reached prior to the Great Depression, and has more than doubled over the last 40 years. 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
National attention has turned to Wisconsin because our presidential primary on April 5th is the only one in the next week. It’s also a significant primary because the percentage turnout is likely to be higher than in any other state since the New Hampshire primary.
For reporters and others who are trying to understand some of the demographic, economic and political context for the April 5th election, we’ve pulled together a variety of facts about Wisconsin and how it compares to other states. Here are a few highlights from that data: 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
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
Compensation of CEOs at major U.S. firms continues to skyrocket, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. To some extent that trend can probably be attributed to broad economic forces, but policy choices at the national and state level also contribute to the huge disparities in income and wealth.
The EPI report was interesting reading today – against the backdrop of Assembly GOP leaders announcing a plan for substantially reducing the prevailing wage law for public sector projects and releasing the details of a Bucks arena plan that will be a boon to the team’s very wealthy owners and players. Those two issue areas are great illustrations of how public policy decisions can exacerbate the widening income gap. And once the budget process resumes, we will learn whether legislative leaders plan to compound the problem by proceeding with a proposal to reduce taxes on very high income Wisconsinites by reducing or eliminating the alternative minimum tax – even as the budget makes cuts that will hurt low-income state residents. Read more
A national group recently issued the 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, which provides a trove of comparative data on household financial security and policy solutions. It’s a very important resource – coming at a time when new data show that income disparities in Wisconsin have reached record levels, and as a broader range of politicians have begun to offer plans for fighting poverty (see for example the plan recently offered by Senator Darling and Rep. Kooyenga).
The scorecard was prepared by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a nonprofit organization based in Washington DC that works to expand economic opportunities for low-income families and communities. They have scored and ranked states on the basis of a wide range of outcome measures, and a second ranking compares states on the basis of how well they are doing in adopting an array of policy solutions that have been shown to increase opportunity for low-income households. Read more
Concerns about increases in income inequality were voiced from a surprising perspective today, when Standard and Poor’s (the bond rating agency) issued a lengthy report titled “Income Inequality Weighs On State Tax Revenues.” The report concludes that “disparity is contributing to weaker tax revenue growth by weakening the rate of overall economic expansion.”
The authors offer this explanation for the correlation between income disparities and economic growth:
“…rising income inequality is a macroeconomic factor that acts as a drag on growth. There is evidence, although not conclusive at this point, that the higher savings rates of those with high incomes causes aggregate consumer spending to suffer. And since one person’s spending is another person’s income, the result is slower overall personal income growth despite continued strong income gains at the top.”
An article in today’s Washington Post sums up the findings in clearer terms:
“Even as income has accelerated for the affluent, it has barely kept pace with inflation for most other people. Read more