With far too many Wisconsinites struggling to make ends meet, it is clear that communities of color are facing this challenge most acutely. New Census data released last week highlights the need for Wisconsin lawmakers to do more to expand opportunity and make it easier for all people to build a secure future.
More than one in three African Americans in Wisconsin made so little in 2014 that they were below the federal poverty level – meaning that they couldn’t afford basic necessities. The poverty level is currently $11,770 for a single person and $24,250 for a family of four.
The racial and ethnic disparities in our state can be seen in the following graph, which compares the percentage of people who were uninsured. Although significant gains in insurance coverage were made in 2014, the graph illustrates that tremendous disparities persist. Minority Less Likely to be Insured-03
Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of African American poverty in the U.S. and one of the highest gaps between the economic status of blacks and whites. For example:
◆ The African American poverty rate in Wisconsin, 37.7%, is the third highest nationally. Only Maine & Oregon were higher in 2014.
◆ African Americans in Wisconsin were almost four times as likely to be below the poverty level as Wisconsin’s white/non-Hispanic residents, and that ratio was third highest nationally (behind Alaska and Minnesota).
◆ Wisconsin’s black child poverty rate (49.4% in 2014) was the second highest in the nation and more than four times the rate for our state’s white children.
◆ African American households in our state had a median income of $26,100 in 2014, less than half the $56,100 earned by white households.
There is also a very large gap between Wisconsin Hispanics and Latinos and our white/non-Hispanic population:
◆ In Wisconsin, Hispanics/Latinos are nearly three times as likely to live in poverty as white/non-Hispanics. This ratio is the 8th highest nationally.
◆ The Hispanic/Latino child poverty rate (34.6%) is more than three times the rate for non-Hispanic white children in our state.
◆ Hispanic and Latino households in Wisconsin had a median income of $37,140 in 2014, which is 34% less than the income of white non-Hispanic households.
◆ Hispanics were almost four times as likely to be uninsured in 2014 as non-Hispanic whites (21.4% vs. 5.7%).
Our success as a state and nation depends on opportunity for everyone. When we fail to achieve this, we all suffer and have a lower quality of life. And we all have a role to play. Paying workers enough to make ends meet, having quality child care for their young kids so they can go to work, being able to see a doctor and stay healthy—all of these things build economic security for everyone while leveling the playing field for communities of color that are least likely to have them.
Wisconsin should take immediate action to make it easier for people to build a secure future. A robust, two-generation approach would open the doors of opportunity for all who are struggling, including those from communities of color, who are more likely to be unemployed or in low paid jobs, lack access to high quality child care, and not have health insurance.
The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) has recommended a number of measures to help all Wisconsinites have the opportunity to thrive. Among those is giving businesses access to a well-trained workforce by providing schools and colleges the resources they need to prepare students for employment. Other recommendations include increasing the minimum wage and then adjusting it each year for inflation; reversing cuts enacted in 2011 to Wisconsin’s Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families; and expanding BadgerCare to cover all adults up to138 percent of the federal poverty level.