Poverty continues to dog Wisconsin despite a lower unemployment rate since the Great Recession.
A UW-Madison professor says he is working to educate people and help those still struggling.
Tim Smeeding is the former director of the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty. He spoke Tuesday in Delavan about why poverty is still an issue a decade after the recession.
“I’m trying to give people who’ve got nothing at the end of the month something at the end of the month,” said Smeeding, who supports a higher minimum wage.
While unemployment rates are low, Wisconsin residents aren’t making enough money to cover the cost of education, housing and child care, Smeeding said.
He said wages in multiple industries fell between the early 2000s and 2018. The number of jobs in the state dropped in 2016 and 2017, he said.
Smeeding created the Wisconsin Poverty Report, which gathers poverty statistics from across the state. The report evaluates families’ market incomes and public cash benefits and noncash benefits such as FoodShare and tax credits. It deducts such expenses as child care and medical expenses.
In 2017, the most recent statistics available, 10.2% of Wisconsin residents were living in poverty. Rock County was around the state average, and Walworth County was slightly lower with a poverty rate of 7%. In Milwaukee, the rate was 14.7%.
Walworth County Board member Charlene Staples attended Smeeding’s talk because she wanted more information and was looking for ways to help people fight poverty.
She said transportation is a big issue for low-income Walworth County residents. She pointed to Dial-a-Ride, a public ride service that charges low fares, as a success story.
“It’s a program we need more of,” Staples said. “We need to expand it further because we don’t have any mass transit, we don’t really have Uber, we don’t have any options here, which makes it very difficult for anyone whether you’re low income, disabled or just want to get from Point A to Point B.”
Smeeding thinks raising the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.50 would solve some problems. He said Republicans and President Donald Trump aren’t doing enough to address the issue.
He said other solutions could include expanding Medicaid, offering more affordable housing, increasing work support services, providing transportation to work for employees and offering better child care assistance.
“If you do these things, they can help,” he said.