A new report shows the poverty rate in Wisconsin was at 11.3 percent in 2017, which is down slightly from the previous year and below the national average. But many Wisconsinites still live near or below the federal poverty line and struggle with necessities such as food, housing and health care.
The Wisconsin Poverty Snapshot found 638,000 people live in poverty in the Badger State, and an additional 1.5 million live near poverty. Astar Herndon, the state director of 9-to-5 Wisconsin, said the lack of access to full employment is a key factor for many families.
“Joblessness is improving. However, under-employment is really what’s keeping folks in poverty,” Herndon said. “And those who have access are exasperating their debt, as well.”
Herndon said in 67 percent of Wisconsin households, one or more people are employed at least part-time. She added that more children live in poverty than any other age group in the state – 14.5 percent of kids live in poor households. And the rates for African-American and Latino children are more than double that.
Herndon said the gap between rich and poor is still growing in Wisconsin, particularly among certain groups.
“There is a divide, but it isn’t just the haves and the have-nots. It’s also race, it’s also gender, in addition to class,” she said. “Somehow, we have to find serious changes in the social insurance system so that everyone can have opportunity.”
Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, said the rising cost of housing is crushing many families. Nationally, 59 percent of people in poverty and 46 percent of people in near-poverty spend more than half their income on rent.
“This is making everything harder for families,” Weinstein said. “Even the people who are near-poor are struggling a tremendous amount to pay for all necessities once they deal with their rent costs every month.”
According to the report, Wisconsin ranks 33rd for its percentage of people in poverty. The national poverty rate is 13.4 percent.