Wisconsin’s Slow Economic Recovery Leaves Many Behind
Policymakers Should Make Investments that Help Put People on the Path to Economic Security
Today’s U.S. Census Bureau report shows that our state’s gradual economic recovery still hasn’t substantially expanded economic opportunity for working people and families in Wisconsin. Median incomes are still well below their pre-recession level (adjusted for inflation), and our state’s elevated poverty levels have yet to begin declining.
According to the new Census Bureau data, Wisconsin’s overall poverty rate edged up slightly last year to 13.5%, which is roughly one in seven state residents. Although the small increase from 13.2% in 2012 is not statistically significant, the change over the last five years is very clear. There were about 755,000 Wisconsinites living in poverty last year, an increase of 186,000 since 2008, when the overall poverty rate was 10.4%.
“We simply can’t accept three quarters of a million Wisconsinites living in poverty as the ‘new normal,’ ” said Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF). “These figures underscore the need for a comprehensive anti-poverty agenda that spans multiple generations and encompasses investments in a broad range of areas, including jobs, affordable housing, health care, and early education.”
Although the gradual economic recovery has been boosting income for people at the top, most Wisconsinites haven’t seen much of an increase in their earnings since the sharp drop during the recession. Median household income among state residents was $51,467 in 2013, unchanged from the previous year, and $5,356 (9.4%) below the 2007 income level.
Some of the other key findings in the Census Bureau data include the following:
- Nearly a quarter of a million (237,000) Wisconsin children were living below the poverty line last year.
- Wisconsin’s child poverty rate was 18.4% in 2013, virtually unchanged from the 18.2% rate in the previous year and still far above the 13.3% rate in 2008.
- The 2013 poverty rate among Wisconsin residents identifying themselves as Black or African American was 38.4%, compared to 10.1% among White non-Hispanic Wisconsinites.
- Black/African American households in the state had a median income of $26,900 in 2013, less than half the $54,600 earned by White non-Hispanic households.
The WCCF press release analyzing and commenting on the new data contains five recommendations for combating Wisconsin’s stubbornly high poverty rates, including the following:
- Increase the minimum wage and then adjust it each year for inflation.
- Reverse the cuts enacted in 2011 to Wisconsin’s Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families and to the state’s Homestead Tax Credit program, which provides targeted property tax relief for low-income homeowners and renters.
- Expand BadgerCare to cover all adults up to138% of the federal poverty level – which would not only help many struggling families, but is also projected by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to save state taxpayers more than $260 million in the next biennium.
As Ken Taylor noted today, “No policy maker who claims to care about Wisconsin’s future can justify ignoring poverty. We all suffer the consequences when so many are poor.”