Residents of west-central Wisconsin counties generally have lower income, about the same level of poverty and less access to technology than the state average, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The numbers, released Thursday, show that only two of the region’s 12 counties recorded a median household income higher than the statewide median of $56,759 in 2013-17. The top-earning counties — St. Croix, at $77,768, and Pierce, at $66,772 — both tend to benefit from a high number of residents who commute to the Twin Cities metro area and its higher average wages.
The region’s other 10 counties — Barron, Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pepin, Rusk and Trempealeau — all had a lower median household income than the state as a whole, the census report revealed.
Rusk County’s median household income of $41,930 was the lowest in the region, at 26.1 percent below the state figure.
Median incomes were $52,178 in Eau Claire County, $55,240 in Chippewa County and $54,605 in Dunn County.
Rusk County also had the area’s highest poverty rate, with 15.2 percent of all residents living below the federal poverty line, the report showed.
Eau Claire County was No. 2 in the region, with an overall poverty rate of 14.5 percent, compared with a statewide rate of 12.3 percent. However, the county’s child poverty rate of 13.4 percent was below the statewide rate of 16.7 percent.
The relatively overall high poverty rate in Eau Claire County reflects the high level of need that people involved with groups serving the poor report seeing on a daily basis.
“I think that right now there are a lot of people who are really struggling in Eau Claire County, and that’s because many people still aren’t earning a living wage,” said Eau Claire County Supervisor Sandra McKinney, who also serves as president of Joining Our Neighbors Advancing Hope, an Eau Claire nonprofit organization better known as JONAH that focuses on addressing poverty and injustice.
McKinney mentioned residents struggling with mental illness and addiction as likely key components of the poverty issue.
“I appreciate all the wonderful, positive things that are happening in Eau Claire, but I think we also need to be honest about who amongst us isn’t living as successfully as we’d like them to be, and find ways to help them,” she said.
Michelle Koehn, executive director of The Community Table, also sees plenty of people working multiple jobs but still struggling to make ends meet. The agency, which provides free hot meals daily, has seen an uptick recently in seniors, college students and families with young children seeking meals, she said.
Other area counties with overall poverty rates above the statewide level were: Clark (13.2 percent), Pepin (13.1 percent), Jackson (13 percent) and Dunn (12.8 percent).
St. Croix County’s overall poverty rate of 4.8 percent and child poverty rate of 5.2 percent were the lowest in west-central Wisconsin.
More than one of every five children lived in poverty in two area counties. The child poverty rate was 24.3 percent in Rusk County and 20.2 percent in Jackson County.
Pepin County (18.7 percent) and Clark County (18.5 percent) also exceeded the state child poverty rate.
The digital divide between urban and rural residents was evident in figures showing access to various kinds of technology, including smartphones and broadband.
While 67.2 percent of state residents reported having a smartphone, the rate was above 70 percent in three regional counties: St. Croix (76.1 percent), Pierce (71.4 percent) and Eau Claire (70.3 percent). Yet only just over half of residents had cellphones in Clark County (51.2 percent) and Rusk County (52.6 percent).
When it comes to having access to fast internet service, only two counties — St. Croix and Eau Claire — exceeded the statewide rate of 78.1 percent.
In St. Croix County, the share of households with a broadband subscription was 83.3 percent, while it was 81.1 percent in Eau Claire County.
On the other end of the spectrum, only 64.1 percent of households in Clark County and 66 percent in Rusk County subscribed to a broadband service.
Data on the rate of residents without health insurance revealed a range from 22.5 percent in Clark County and 10.1 percent in Rusk County to 4.8 percent in St. Croix County and 5.6 percent in Pierce County.
Eau Claire County had an estimated 8,100 residents, or 8 percent, without health insurance, compared with 3,790 people, or 6.2 percent, in Chippewa County and 3,086 residents, or 7 percent, in Dunn County. Statewide, 6.5 percent of residents lacked health insurance.
The numbers come from the American Community Survey, which provides statistics on social, economic, housing and demographic topics for all 3,142 counties in the nation.