Friday, February 26, 2016

UW poverty stats show Wisconsin not so special anymore

UW-Madison’s Applied Population Laboratory released a study this week that’s received quite a bit of play, including a front-page headline in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Here’s the part of their summary that has been receiving the most attention.
The analysis compared U.S. Census Bureau data from 2005-09 to numbers from 2010-14 and found that the number of state residents living in poverty hit 13 percent during the five years ending in 2014 — the highest rate since 1984.

During the most recent five-year span, poverty increased significantly in 31 of 72 Wisconsin counties, including 11 of the 15 most populous counties. Estimates show that about 738,000 Wisconsin residents were living in poverty, compared to 605,000 in the previous five-year period.
And if you click onto the Census Bureau site, you will find that is completely true- these stats have been hiding in plain sight for the last few months. The UW-Madison lab simply put the information together into a report and broke down the various demographics. What’s more, the UW-Madison researchers broke down the numbers to the county level, and showed nearly half of Wisconsin’s counties also had a statistically significant increase in poverty, including almost all of the southern half of the state.

Some of this is easy to explain- 2005-09 consisted of the last 3 years of the 2000s Bubble economy, and only caught the start of the Great Recession. By comparison 2010-2014 got much of the fallout of the recession (and the high poverty rates that started in 2010), and had a much higher starting point than we had in 2005. Combine that with the increases in inequality that are still wracking this country, and Wisconsin’s increase of 2.2% in the 2010-2014 vs 2005-2009 isn’t statistically different from the 2.1% increase seen in the rest of the country over that time.

Going more locally, Wisconsin’s increases in poverty were similar to many of our Midwestern neighbors, and because Wisconsin’s poverty rate was well below the national rate in the late 2000s (part of the “disaster” Scott Walker inherited when he was elected in 2010), the state is still below the national rate today.

But that still doesn’t mean things have gone as they should have in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan when it comes to poverty figures. Note that the other low-poverty Midwestern states of Iowa and Minnesota didn’t get as much of an increase in poverty that Wisconsin got in that time period, and the Midwestern states that had poverty increases of more than 2% of the people were places that already had higher poverty rates than Wisconsin, so proportionately, it’s not as big of a number.

When you slice the increases in poverty that way, Wisconsin doesn’t look so good. In fact, we get the highest increase in poverty as a percentage of the 2005-09 total than any other state in the Midwest, and quite a bit higher than what the rest of the country saw.

This is what’s important to bring up with this state- Wisconsin has traditionally been a low-poverty state (likely because of its strong schools and safety net) and one that has kept up with its Midwestern neighbors in job growth. Neither of these have been the case since Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP came to power in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and we are lagging behind as a result.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz mentioned the UW report in one of his typically hilarious press releases yesterday. The release mocked Gov Walker for his speech at this week's WMC GOP propaganda event Business Day, where Walker tried to take credit for Wisconsin’s decent economic statistics. Hintz noted that the state was doing better in the national rankings before Walker and WMC took over in the Capitol.

With several state and national jobs reports coming out in the next 3 weeks, and Wisconsin seeming likely to badly lag the growth in the rest of the country in those reports, don't be surprised to see the UW report be a telling item in a larger theme. The Age of Fitzwalkerstan has placed us into a new era where the economic advantages the state used to have are going away, making us just another state with nothing exceptional to offer and attract talent with. Instead of trying to grab more power and reduce the wages of everyone that isn't in their inner circle, maybe Wisconsin's business community should worry about restoring those advantages the state once had, or be replaced by leaders who will understand this.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for summarizing the information. My concern is that people up north still blame public employees for their poverty. I am not sure what will change that perception.