A new study by the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty found although the nationwide recession led to a loss of jobs in Wisconsin, the poverty rate in Wisconsin was actually lower in 2010 than in 2009.
Using its own Wisconsin Poverty Measure, whose methodology and results differ from the official reports of the Census Bureau, the institute found Wisconsin’s poverty rate dropped from 11.1 to 10.3 percent from 2009 to 2010, in comparison to a rise reflected over the same time period by the Census Bureau from 12.4 to 13 percent.
The Census Bureau report counts mainly money resources such as income or government cash transfer programs, including unemployment insurance, welfare cash and Social Security. However, WPM also includes tax credits and noncash benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as “work-related costs that reduce available resources, like child care and health care costs.”
Among the report’s conclusions were that government safety net programs were very effective in reducing the poverty rate in Wisconsin. The report also concluded the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and tax credits have both been the most effective programs in reducing Wisconsin’s poverty rate.
“In times of need, a safety net that enhances low earnings for families with children, puts food on the table and encourages self-reliance – as Wisconsin’s safety net does – can make a difference in combating market-driven poverty,” the report said.
Although the safety net programs alleviated poverty in Wisconsin, they are not the ultimate solution, according to UW’s La Follette School of Public Affairs Professor Timothy Smeeding, one of the report’s authors.
“We need jobs. That is what the real solution to poverty is. Wisconsin has been pretty flat on jobs since the end of 2010,” Smeeding said.
Milwaukee County again showed the highest poverty rate in the state, although its poverty rate decreased from 18.7 percent in 2009 to 16.7 percent in 2010. The report mentions that there is “significant segregation of the poor and rich within that county,” shown by the 35.6 percent poverty rate in the central part of Milwaukee County and the 5.3 percent poverty rate in some of the City of Milwaukee’s wealthier surrounding suburbs.
Dane County’s poverty rate also decreased from 2009 to 2010, from 13.5 to 11.9 percent. Also, the 2009 poverty rate in Dane County was higher than the state average with the 2010 difference in poverty rate no longer being statistically significant, the report said.
Greta Hansen, executive director of the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, said her group is one of many that provides assistance to those who are struggling with finding housing or managing their budgets, among other resources. According to Hansen, safety net programs help those who are poor move toward self sufficiency.
“If you read the news, you can tell that the pendulum is not exactly swinging in favor of helping people,” Hansen said. “Certainly, federal programs aren’t going to solve poverty; you need a social infrastructure where people have more opportunities. But without [those programs], it would be a whole lot worse.”