A recent UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty report found that 37.5% of counties in Wisconsin had significantly lower poverty rates in 2017 than the stage average.
Eau Claire County and a southern portion of Chippewa County were not among that group.
In fact, a graphic developed by the research group marked counties as below average and about average with, respectively, teal and gray. The aforementioned Chippewa Valley area and geographically small Milwaukee County stood out as the only ones assigned a mustard color for above state average.
“It’s a little startling when the Chippewa Valley is on the map for poverty and higher than the state average,” Jan Porath, United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley executive director, told the Leader-Telegram’s Andrew Dowd.
“It was shocking.”
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The report found that in a metric that considers only earnings and other private income, 22.5% of state residents were considered “poor” in 2017. Nearly half of our elderly population was given that label, with increased out-of-pocket medical expenses as one of the key reasons.
“Poverty rates fell for children but rose for elders,” the report reads.
Changes in the safety net, such as food assistance and other benefits, played a role as did relatively low employee compensation. Real wages in 2017 hadn’t improved much since around 2001, the report found.
“The state minimum wage remained at $7.25 per hour since 2009, despite increases in 30 other states,” it states. “In 28 other states, the 2017 minimum wage was $10 per hour or more.”
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At the local level, many who aren’t considered in poverty are still struggling.
The United Way releases a report every two years that assesses “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” according to Dowd’s story, “because their earnings are below a modest budget for housing, transportation, child care, groceries and health care.”
The 2018 ALICE report found that 28 percent of Eau Claire County residents were in that category, compared with 25 percent statewide.
Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, told Dowd public health is a decided concern in this demographic.
“Clearly one of the reasons people are healthy or not healthy is related to income,” she said.
Thankfully, the United Way’s local chapter is taking action. The organization hosted its first-ever “State of the Chippewa Valley” event Thursday to address concerns about poverty. Porath and Giese were among a variety of scheduled panelists.
The Institute for Research on Poverty study is in its 11th year. Only one other time, in 2012, was the Eau Claire area’s poverty rate significantly above the state average.
“After more than eight years of nationwide recovery since the end of the Great Recession, we should expect better poverty outcomes,” reads the report.
Hopefully efforts such as that undertaken by United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley will help us get there.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor