Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, May 22, 2017

Annual UW–Madison study shows Wisconsin poverty fell in 2015

Annual UW–Madison study shows Wisconsin poverty fell in 2015

La Follette School faculty member Tim Smeeding, the Lee Rainwater Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Economics, presented the 2015 Wisconsin Poverty Report (WPR) at the State Capitol on May 22.

Wisconsin gained 70,000 jobs in 2015, leading to a significant reduction in poverty as measured by the Wisconsin Poverty Measure (WPM), Smeeding reported. The WPM overall rate fell from 10.8 percent in 2014 to 9.7 percent in 2015 – the lowest rate since the first report in 2008.

A major difference between the WPM and the official poverty measure is that the WPM includes resources from refundable tax credits and noncash benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, FoodShare in Wisconsin) as well as work expenses and healthcare costs.

“The WPM rates reflect the improvement in Wisconsin’s job market and the continued importance of the safety net in protecting families in the state,” Smeeding said.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty identified additional good news. The WPM child poverty rate reached an all-time low – 10 percent – and elderly poverty dropped from 8.3 percent to 7.8 percent.

“Refundable tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and safety net benefits, especially SNAP/FoodShare, play an important role in poverty reduction,” Smeeding said. “However, state and national changes to SNAP reduced these positive effects in 2015 as compared to previous years.”

Milwaukee County and La Crosse County were the only places with rates significantly higher than the state average. Six areas had rates significantly lower than the statewide rate: Waukesha, Outagamie, Dodge, Jefferson, Sheboygan, Brown, and Washington/Ozaukee counties.

Differences within Milwaukee County were larger than differences across counties, Smeeding noted. In Milwaukee County, WPM poverty rates varied from 10 percent to 37 percent and WPM child poverty from 5 percent to 42 percent, comparing the county’s outer areas to central city Milwaukee.

The full report is on IRP's website along with a two-page summary