State poverty rates are increasing due to current economic conditions, according to the Wisconsin Poverty Report released Monday.

The report estimates 12.6 percent of Wisconsin citizens are currently living in poverty, a 1.8 percent increase from the 2007 poverty total of 10.8 percent. This is largely due the state’s rising unemployment rates and declining economic condition.

The report — put together by the University of Wisconsin‘s Institute for Research on Poverty — hopes to influence state policies that will help citizens living in poverty while exposing the depth of poverty in the state.

Milwaukee County has the state’s highest poverty rate at 17.3 percent, but the rate varies greatly throughout the county. Ten counties in the northwestern part of Wisconsin tied for second with rates of 14.4 percent each, while Rock County rested in third with a rate of 12.8 percent.

Waukesha County has the state’s lowest poverty rate, 3.7 percent.

The report also found statewide enrollment of individuals in the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program has escalated. Since 2007, enrollment in the program increased by 37 percent, rising in every county and demographic region of the state. In some counties, enrollment increased by more than 50 percent.

Timothy Smeeding, director of the IRP, said he was most surprised to see the large increase in citizens on SNAP over the past two years.

“I was surprised to see how fast people need food stamps. That was pretty amazing,” Smeeding said.

Smeeding said if he could, he would like to go back and evaluate the effect other state and federal policies have had on poverty, like the policies included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

There are a variety of steps lawmakers can take to help improve poverty rates in the state, IRP senior editor Deborah Johnson said.

“The Institute for Research on Poverty prepared the Wisconsin Poverty Report as the starting point for discussions among researchers, policymakers, agency executives, service providers and the many non-profit organizations and foundations that are fighting poverty,” Johnson said in an e-mail to The Badger Herald.

Reducing poverty will likely require many organizations and the government to work together, Johnson added, although she highlighted various state programs that have been effective, including state-funded child-care assistance.

The government should first enact policies to help keep the current conditions in the state stable, Smeeding said. He argued the recession is not over and unemployment rates in the state and nation are still likely to continue to rise.

Smeeding added he was in favor of increasing funding for technical colleges and said he believes these programs will provide training to citizens, allowing them to fill jobs in the state once economic conditions have improved.

Smeeding presented the report in Milwaukee on Monday as part of the Building Bridges to Family Economic Success conference that was led by Gov. Jim Doyle and the Department of Children and Families.