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Employment No Longer Top Concern For Some Low-Income Families In Wisconsin

Recent Survey Finds More Families Need Help With Housing, Health Care

Mortgage help sign
Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

With unemployment down in Wisconsin, affordable housing and the cost of health care have become bigger issues for some low-income families in southwestern Wisconsin.

Couleecap, a poverty assistance agency in western Wisconsin, surveys low-income households about their needs every three years. The organization received responses from around 900 low-income households in La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and Monroe counties for its 2016 survey.

Employment has been near the top of the list in previous surveys, especially after the 2008 recession.

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But this year, housing, transportation and health care all topped job concerns – signaling families have largely recovered from the recession, Couleecap Executive Director Grace Jones said.

“People have overcome unemployment, gotten back to work, and so as, an overall issue, it just fell in terms of the priorities,” Jones said.

Employment is still a top issue among some demographic groups, including African-Americans and Asians, she said. In the employment category, respondents’ top concerns were receiving higher wages and health benefits. Jones said these issues are important for families in poverty, but they aren’t immediate needs.

“It’s just that when you’re literally almost unable to keep your car running or pay your rent, those issues rise to the top because they’re really on the front burner,” Jones said.

Jones said wages have not kept up with the rising cost of rental housing, making it harder for low-income families to save enough to buy a home.

“Ideally your housing costs would not exceed more than 25 percent of your gross income, and we have folks paying much more than that up to 50 percent and plus of their income for housing,” Jones said. “That’s an issue, but it’s even broader than that – there’s folks who are becoming homeless.”

Jones said Couleecap is keeping an eye on what happens to government-funded poverty programs in the next three years.

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