No surprise here but Wisconsin's poverty rate worsened in 2008, with more than 11 percent of the state's population living in need, including one in seven children and one in 10 elderly residents, according to a new report.
Produced by the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the UW-Madison, the report issued Thursday used direct interviews and a more complete accounting of the state poverty rate than traditional measures.
Under that matrix, the state poverty rate was 11.2 percent vs. 10.2 percent according to the U.S. government figures. The national poverty rate in 2008 was 13.2 percent.
"This 11 percent number in Wisconsin more accurately reflects what people told us," says Tim Smeeding, director of the IRP and La Follette School of Public Affairs faculty member.
Milwaukee County was the poorest in the state, with a poverty rate of 18.8 percent, according to the IRP report. La Crosse (13.9%) and Dane (13.1%) percent were next poorest.
Only three areas showed poverty rates of less than 8 percent under the Wisconsin Poverty Measure: Waukesha County (6.1%), Marathon County (6.1 percent), and the two-county area of Ozaukee/Washington (4.6 percent).
Smeeding notes that statewide poverty rate would be 2 percentage points higher but for the financial resources provided by tax credits, nutrition assistance, public housing and energy assistance.
"We do all this good stuff in Wisconsin that helps," he says.
IRP created the Wisconsin Poverty Measure with the idea that poverty can't be reduced unless researchers and policymakers have an accurate view of both the resources and expenses of individuals and families.
"We can't gauge the efficacy of public programs, and thus make the best use of limited government resources, without having this more complete picture of need versus resources, such as is provided by the new Wisconsin Poverty Report," he says.
The Wisconsin measure also indicates a steep increase in poverty among the elderly, whose rate jumps to 10.4 percent - compared with 7.1 percent under the official measure - and an increase in children's poverty rate, which is 13.6 percent under the Wisconsin measure, compared with the 13.3 percent rate under the official measure.
The 2009 federal poverty report is due out later this month and Smeeding says it will show another sharp increase in the percentage of poor Americans.