The first deals with the large amount of Wisconsinites that work in low-wage jobs that don’t even lift them out of poverty. COWS defines a "poverty-wage job" as a point where working 40 hours a week still isn’t enough to lift a 2-parent family of 4 out of poverty, and that’s about $11.55 an hour.
With that in mind, take a look at these stats COWS gives on poverty-wage jobs in Wisconsin.
730,000 Wisconsin workers — 1 in 4 — worked in poverty-wage jobs in 2014.Also worth noting in the COWS report is that 79% of people in non-poverty wage jobs get health insurance through their jobs, but only 49% do with people in poverty-wage jobs, which means in addition to being three times as likely to not have health insurance at all, poverty-wage workers are more likely to rely on government and the individual insurance market to get insured.
•The median age of a poverty-wage worker in Wisconsin is 29 years old.
•More than three-fourths of Wisconsin’s poverty wage workers are white. But African American and Hispanic workers are much more likely to hold poverty wage jobs. While one-quarter of white workers earn poverty wages, 36 percent of black, and 48 percent of Hispanic workers do.
•Three times as many poverty-wage workers have no health insurance as compared to other workers – 22 percent of poverty-wage workers had no health insurance in 2013; only 7 percent of workers with jobs paying above that line have no insurance.
•Hours can be as big a problem as wages. Poverty-wage work is often formally or functionally part-time. Just-in-time scheduling, where an employer gives little-to-no advance warning of scheduled work times, is an increasing norm. In many service sector jobs, bad weather, bad traffic, or just too few customers can send workers home mid-shift.
In addition, the COWS report looks at the major increase of children in poverty in Wisconsin, with the rate of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch increasing from 24% in 2001, to 43% in 2014. But COWS adds that state policy has not matched those increasing needs, and in fact, seems to be going in the other direction.
In the face of increasing needs in our classrooms, however, our public schools are continually facing cutbacks in resources. That too is making the provision of a strong education for all children harder to supply. Schools and teachers are dealing with greater need in their classrooms, even as the resources supporting public education are declining. So these maps say something not only about our changing economy, and growing needs of our children, but also about our public will.
Wisconsin faces a choice today about what sort of future we want for our state. It is about our children and our schools, narrowly. But more broadly, that choice is about whether we will continue to become more private and divided. Or whether we will once again embrace common purpose in our communities and commit to and invest in that collective future. We can move on a different trajectory. But not without more conscious attention to both the economy and the long-term investment in our infrastructure and schools that can build a foundation for changing what is possible.
The Wisconsin Budget Project has an excellent summary of this section, and other parts of The State of Working Wisconsin report. This includes the shocking statistic indicating Wisconsin has the highest level of African-American unemployment in the country (19.9%). Perhaps some national folks should snoop around and ask presidential candidate Scott Walker why that is.
In fact, a lot of these stats in the COWS report should make any sort of reality-based conservative look at the results (if such a person exists), and ask him/herself how they can seriously say that “it’s working” for most Wisconsinites in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.