MADISON — A study on statewide
poverty rates released last week revealed mixed results, with
improving childhood poverty rates but increased poverty among
Wisconsin’s elderly residents.
The Wisconsin Poverty Measure, which was developed by University of
Wisconsin- Madison researchers, dropped from 10.8 percent in 2016 to
10.2 percent in 2017, according to the Wisconsin Poverty Report.
That’s up from 9.7 percent in 2015.
“This suggests that progress against poverty in Wisconsin since 2010
has been limited and that we are treading water at this point,” the
Timothy Smeeding, one of the report’s authors, said in the report
that the findings suggest the economy is not benefiting workers and
“I’ve been conducting this study for 11 years now and I have to say,
after more than eight years of nationwide recovery from the end of
the Great Recession through 2017, we should see better poverty
outcomes,” said Smeeding, Lee Rainwater Distinguished Professor of
Public Affairs and Economics at the La Follette School of Public
Affairs at UW-Madison.
The latest research indicates that the decline of Wisconsin children
in poverty is the result of higher earnings by their parents, along
with a broader range of tax credits and benefits for families. Also,
the measure is counting the income of unmarried partners in the most
More of the state’s older residents, however, are experiencing
poverty. The report said this was largely due to increasing
out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Insurance premiums, copayments for medical services, prescription
and over-the-counter drugs, and uninsured medical costs are expenses
that present a significant financial challenge for the low-income
elderly, the study said.
The study found the poverty measure was higher than the state
average in Milwaukee County, at 17.2 percent, but lower in
surrounding counties. It was 4.2 percent in Waukesha County and 3.6
percent in both Washington and Ozaukee counties.
“While unemployment remains low and the economy is generally said to
be doing well, housing costs have increased out of proportion to
income,” said Brad Paul, executive director of Wisconsin Community
Action Program Association, in a recent interview with Conley Media.
He noted there were 19,000 homeless children and youth enrolled in
public schools last year, according to Wisconsin Department of
Public Instruction figures.
“So when we talk about economic well-being we just need to remember
that there remains a stubbornly persistent percentage of the
population who are routinely cut out of the bargain,” he wrote, in
Discussing recent research from the Federal Reserve Board studying
the economic well-being American families, Paul said he believes the
federal poverty threshold is “already too low, a little over $20,000
a year for a family of three.”
“In some respects, for poor households, every day is an emergency,”
To help alleviate poverty, Paul advocated for addressing the cost
and availability of child care and housing affordability and
expanding support for business startups to create jobs in rural
areas where economic development lags behind urban and suburban
“There are few anti-poverty initiatives better than access to good
jobs,” he said.