According to numbers from the US Census Bureau, 46.2 million Americans were poverty stricken in 2010, with a national poverty rate of 15.1 percent. That’s more than in the past 52 years that the federal government has been keeping track. And to make things worse, Bob Jacobson with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families says household income in Wisconsin has been declining for at least a decade.
“The average Wisconsin household is earning over $7,000 less now than they were in 1999-2000. And that’s adjusted for inflation, so their buying power has really been degraded. And that’s a longer term trend that began before the recession.”
The poverty line in 2010 was just over $22,000 for a family of four. Jacobson says the federal poverty level is really kind of an arbitrary number; it doesn’t necessarily reflect the level at which a family goes from not being able to make ends meet to making ends meet. Families up to twice the poverty levels can still be struggling. “It’s sort of absurd for there to be a single number like that for the entire nation when we know that it costs a heck of a lot more to live in say NY than it does to live in rural Alabama. So having this one number that applies to both of those households doesn’t really make all that much sense.”
Also, Jacobson says more people are uninsured both nationally and in Wisconsin as workers have lost employer-sponsored coverage during the recession. He says there needs to be a real shift in the priorities of some policymakers. “What we see is a whole lot of attention being focused on deficit reduction when it should be focused on poverty reduction.”
Then, he says, those working people are paying income taxes, buying more stuff, and paying sales tax. That will get the budget back in order, he says. For those who are struggling to make ends meet, the state needs to keep programs like BadgerCarePlus, Wisconsin Shares and the Earned Income Tax Credit.