Changing economy, changing society fuel poverty increase

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Stacy Vogel
Sunday, August 24, 2008
— To some extent, Janesville faces the same problems as the entire nation when it comes to poverty.

Wages—especially for jobs that don’t require a college education—aren’t keeping up with inflation or costs across the country, said Lisa Furseth, executive director of Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties.

But the poverty rate in Janesville has shot up faster than in the state or nation in the last decade, while income in Janesville has lagged behind the pay in the rest of Wisconsin.

Part of the reason might lie in Janesville’s changing economy, said Doug Venable, city economic development director. Between 1978 and 2006, the number of goods-producing, or manufacturing, jobs dropped 8 percent in Rock County, while the number of service jobs jumped 93 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The number of manufacturing jobs will drop even further as General Motors closes its Janesville plant.

Manufacturers can make good money—an average of $57,000 a year in Rock County, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development—even without college degrees.

But when those manufacturing jobs disappear, uneducated workers are often faced with low-paying service jobs as their only options.

The service sector includes a wide range of occupations, from professional jobs such as teacher and manager to jobs in the food service and hospitality industry.

Many of the most common service jobs in Rock County in 2006 were low-paying ones such as cashier, retail salesperson and secretary, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Rock County wages for these types of workers ranged from $12.84 an hour (office worker) to $7.72 an hour (food server or preparer).

With the skyrocketing prices of food and gas, it’s no wonder unskilled workers are struggling to get by.

But the economy isn’t the only factor in growing poverty rates, Furseth said. Rising rates of divorce and unwed births have left many children in single-parent households. Those parents—usually mothers—struggle to balance child-care and employment demands.

Nearly half of Rock County families led by women lived below the poverty line in 2006, according to the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families.

Welfare reform in the 1990s encouraged many single mothers to find jobs, but it made it more difficult for them to get educations that will allow them to earn decent wages, Furseth said.

“While they may be back at work, they’re back at work stuck,” she said.

Other factors contributing to poverty, according to experts, include:

-- Drug and alcohol addiction.

-- Mental illness.

-- Upbringing. Those who grow up in poverty have a much greater chance of living in poverty as adults because they don’t have the skills or education to pull themselves up.

-- Attitude. Many people living in poverty fall into depression because they think their situations are hopeless, experts say. Others learn to manipulate the social system.

But Tammy Stafford-Bartelt, a Footville single mother who has lived in poverty and now counsels adults looking to go back to school, said most impoverished families are trying to improve their situations.

“They don’t want to live in a place where there’s crappy living circumstances,” she said. “They don’t want to live in a drug-infested area. They don’t want to raise their children in that.”

Those who aren’t trying probably need other services, such as mental health or addiction counseling, she said.

Officer Chad Sullivan, former neighborhood resource officer at Wilson Elementary School, where 96 percent of the students qualify as low income, said he met some people who took advantage of social safety nets but more who were trying to better themselves.

“For the majority of the people out there, they were doing the best they could and would take the resources we offered,” he said.


Janesville’s largest employers, 1978

1. General Motors: 6,928 employees.

2. Parker Pen: 1,146 employees.

3. JATCO: 849 employees.

4. Janesville School District: 720 employees.

5. Mercy Hospital: 490 employees.

6. Gilman. 485 employees.

7. Norwood Mills: 467 employees.

8. HUFCOR: 412 employees.

9. City of Janesville: 410 employees.

10. Monterey Mills: 395 employees.

Janesville’s largest employers, early 2008

1. Mercy Health System: 2,635 employees.

2. General Motors: 2,500 employees.

3. Janesville School District: 1,515 employees.

4. Rock County: 1,189 employees.

5. Lab Safety Supply: 910 employees.

6. Lear: 840 employees.

7. SSI/Bornes: 560 employees.

8. Seneca Foods: 550 employees.

9. Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club: 483 employees.

10: LeMans: 475 employees.

Source: Doug Venable, Janesville economic development director.

Last updated: 9:57 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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