Latest Numbers Show Not Much Has Changed In Wisconsin, Says Labor Economist

Tamarine Cornelius Says Poverty Continues To Be Pervasive Issue In State

Courtesy of Wisconsin Public Television

The Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau both released new data on Thursday revealing that Wisconsin is around the middle of the pack in America in terms of private-sector job growth, and that more than four of every 10 single mothers and their children under 18 live in poverty.

Tamarine Cornelius, an analyst for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families spoke with Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” Host Terry Bell for some perspective on the new numbers.

Terry Bell: So what is driving these numbers?

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Tamarine Cornelius: What we saw with these is that there hasn’t been much change from last year to this year, or 2012 to 2013, in terms of the number of people in poverty and the number of children in poverty. And that’s a problem because what it means is that since the recession, we are still having these elevated levels of poverty. For a lot of people and a lot of families, there really has been no recovery since the recession since there are still a lot of people in poverty.

TB: Four of every 10 Wisconsin households with single mothers and kids under 18 live in poverty. That sounds kind of dire. Put that in some perspective. How does Wisconsin compare to the rest of the country?

TC: Wisconsin’s poverty rate, and child poverty rate, is a little lower than the rest of the country. So that’s the good news, but we’re still looking at some pretty high levels of poverty. For example, in Wisconsin, almost a quarter of a million children live in poverty. That’s about enough to fill Lambeau Field three times over. So we’re talking about a lot of children here, and we shouldn’t let the fact that we’re doing a little better than the national average make us think that we don’t have problem.

TB: Is there anything in particular driving poverty in Wisconsin?

TC: I think we’re subject to the same forces as the rest of the country in terms of economy and poverty. We have the same difficulties in regaining jobs that were lost during the recession. And those jobs that have been regained often pay not as well as the ones that were lost.

TB: And the latest numbers, I believe, show Wisconsin is lagging behind the national average in terms of job recovery

TC: Right.

TB: What can be done to make the situation for single moms and their kids better?

TC: I think we needs to work on both ends — both on making sure the jobs are there for people to work their way out of poverty, and make sure we emphasize jobs that are secure and give families the ability to sustain themselves, because really that’s the best way to work out poverty. But we also have to be sure that for people who are working, or people who can’t find a job, or working on a low-wage job, that we get the supports in there that allow them to work toward self-sufficiency. Things like connecting people to high-quality child care, so that they can have someplace for their children while they work. And raising the minimum wage, so that we have a wage floor for people, so that people who are working full-time aren’t still in poverty.

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