Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Smeeding shares expertise with state Future of the Family Commission

Timothy Smeeding Timothy Smeeding

The decline of wage-labor opportunities, marriage and family stability – especially for unskilled younger adults – puts many Wisconsin families at a cumulative disadvantage, La Follette School Professor Tim Smeeding told members of the Wisconsin Future of the Family Commission.

Smeeding spoke at the inaugural meeting of the 10-member Commission, which Gov. Scott Walker charged with “identifying issues and barriers relating to the overall well-being of families in the state, developing policies that lift individuals out of poverty, and developing and recommending polices for implementation to better serve Wisconsin's families throughout the future.” Eloise Anderson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, chairs the Commission.  A final report with findings and recommendations is due to Gov. Walker by December 1. 

Smeeding, director of UW-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty from 2008 – 2014, is the Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Economics at the UW. He also pioneered the Wisconsin Poverty Measure (WPM) in 2008, now in its eighth year. 

According to the 2015 Wisconsin Poverty Report, poverty in the state increased from 10.2 percent in 2012 to 10.9 percent in 2013. The WPM was developed to provide policy and practice professionals with a more accurate account of economic status at the bottom of the income distribution, one that includes refundable tax credits and noncash benefits like FoodShare. It also includes findings for children and the elderly and at the county level for most of Wisconsin.

Smeeding told Commission members that in the United States marriage and prosperity are declining for all but college-educated people; divorce is increasing among less-educated people and among those who marry at young ages; out-of-wedlock births are increasing; and work and pay are declining among younger (age 25-29) adults.

“As the economy declines for those in the prime marriageable ages, especially undereducated men of all races, and as women’s wages rise, marriage declines – except for the college-educated who marry later,” he said, adding that young men were the most ravaged by the Great Recession and beyond (2007 – 2015) and needed to become more economically stable before marriage could be expected.

This, in turn, means less upward financial and social mobility for the children of these parents as they become adults, Smeeding added.

“Less-educated and less-skilled parents have less economic stability and provide fewer opportunities for their children,” he said. “Activities spent on literacy and other investments vary enormously by income and socioeconomic status.”

To build stronger families and increase economic prosperity, he urged Commission members to consider the four cornerstones of the report “Opportunity, Responsibility and Security: A Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty and Restoring the American Dream” from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for Public Policy Research and the Brookings Institution.

  • Promote marriage as the most reliable route to family stability and resources
  • Promote delayed, responsible childbearing
  • Promote parenting skills and practices, especially among low-income parents
  • Promote skill development, family involvement and employment among young men as well as women

Smeeding concluded his presentation January 27 by emphasizing compromise as a critical aspect when developing innovative strategies to strengthen and support families – as shown by the diverse authors of the AEI/Brookings report.