Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch: Wisconsin is Actually Winning the War on Poverty

Fewer people, especially fewer children, are living in poverty in Wisconsin than ever before. In fact, we’ve seen a “significant reduction” in poverty across our state the past several years.

That’s the data presented in a new report from UW-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty. Why is poverty at such low levels? The study credits the more than 70,000 new jobs created in this growing economy. As Bill Novak reported in the State Journal on Wednesday, “More jobs mean less poverty in Wisconsin.”

The report and its author, professor Timothy Smeeding, identify several public policy levers government can pull to further reduce poverty. Smeeding praises the earned income tax credit for incentivizing people in poverty to take jobs. He’s absolutely right. The EITC encourages people to jump on that initial bottom rung of the ladder to the American dream, knowing they’ll start climbing to higher incomes and greater independence as they advance in their careers.

The report also says “the growing cost of rent for private apartments in Wisconsin’s major cities is of great concern,” a conclusion I’ve seen with my own eyes during my last 18 months focused on homelessness. It’s a simple fact that people can’t move out of homeless shelters if no affordable apartments or houses are available for them to move into.

In my view, we need to start with a new approach to government-subsidized housing that helps people “move in, move up, and move out” so we can keep opening affordable units up for new occupants. One way to accomplish that goal is by attaching work requirements, drug testing and time limits to housing vouchers, especially as we increase the intensity and intentionality of services we wrap around our remaining unemployed neighbors.

The UW report concludes, “Because we believe that the long-term solution to poverty for the able-bodied non-elderly is a secure job that pays well, not an indefinite income support program, these findings are encouraging.”

I couldn’t agree more.

We can’t stop now though. Just because poverty rates are the lowest on record by this metric doesn’t mean much for the people still stuck and struggling. But we should take heart that our reforms our working, and our economy is growing, and then recommit to ensuring our state’s prosperity embraces all her citizens.