More families in 'extreme poverty,' Wisconsin study says FWD

Tom Boland (
Fri, 23 Jul 1999 13:01:29 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - June 15, 1999


     Findings based on food-stamp data; state official skeptical

     By Jack Norman of the Journal Sentinel staff

Despite the booming economy, the number of Wisconsin families in "extreme
poverty" has soared, according to a study, released Monday, on nine years
of data on food-stamp recipients.

Economic growth and the reduction in the welfare rolls "have left behind a
growing number of families trapped in extreme poverty," said Vicky Selkowe,
W-2 project coordinator for the Institute for Wisconsin's Future.

Selkowe defined extreme poverty as having an income less than 50% of the
federal poverty line, which translates into a 1997 income of less than
$6,665 for a family of three.

The number of Wisconsin households (with children) who receive food stamps
and fall in the "extreme poverty" category more than doubled from 1989
through 1997, from 7,731 to 17,183, according to the report.

And the proportion of food-stamp recipients with incomes below half the
poverty line jumped from 10% in 1989 to 32% in 1997, the most recent year
for which data are available.

Those numbers "are a warning sign that as families are moving (off welfare)
into employment, many families are also moving in the opposite direction,"
said Mark Greenburg, senior staff attorney for the Center for Law and
Social Policy in Washington.

Greenburg was among those speaking at a news conference announcing the results.

The Institute for Wisconsin's Future is a Milwaukee-based, non-profit,
policy-research group funded by labor, community and religious groups.

In response to the study, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of
Workforce Development said there aren't enough data to decide whether there
is an increase in the number of extremely poor families.

"The data's very mixed," said Jan Van Vleck, special assistant to
Department Secretary Linda Stewart, who was out of the state and
unavailable for comment.

"We haven't been able to do a study," Van Vleck said. "We get random
studies from different groups, but often these studies are not well-done."

W-2 "has become a handy thing to blame," she said, adding that despite
disagreements about the extent of severe poverty, the report's authors
seemed to agree with state officials on the importance of work.

>Speakers at the news conference included social service providers from
>Milwaukee, Wausau and Superior who offered anecdotal evidence about a
>surge in the number of families seeking emergency food and shelter.

For many poor families, going off welfare hasn't eliminated dependency but
shifted it from "dependency on government programs to dependency on
stand-in-line at food pantries and shelters," said Jack Murtaugh, executive
director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.

The report includes data that the big drop in the number of welfare
recipients in the decade preceding W-2 was not accompanied by a
corresponding drop in poverty.

>From 1989-'97, the number of Wisconsin households on Aid to Families with
>Dependent Children fell 67% - even before the start of W-2 - but the
>poverty population fell only 12%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the
>report notes.

The study urges that low-income families be offered better support services
and better linkages to entitlements, such as child-care subsidies, medical
assistance, food stamps and transportation assistance.

Especially important is allowing W-2 recipients to use education to count
toward work requirements, said Michael Rosen, chairman of the economics
department at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Otherwise, many W-2
recipients won't be able to find the jobs needed to climb out of deep
poverty, he said.

The report uses food-stamp data - a common technique for poverty
researchers - because it's the most readily available information on the
nation's poor. To analyze the data, the Institute for Wisconsin's Future
hired ECONorthwest, a research group based in Portland, Ore.


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
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