Tag Archives: middle class

Census: Income, poverty numbers stay just about the same

The wallets of America’s middle class and poorest aren’t seeing any extra money, the U.S. Census reported this month, a financial stagnation experts say may be fueling political dissent this campaign season.

The Census Bureau, in its annual look at poverty and income in the United States, said both the country’s median income and poverty rate were statistically unchanged in 2014 from the previous year.

Median income — the point where half of the households have income below it and half have income above it —  showed no statistically significant change, despite the small drop to $53,700 in 2014 from 2013’s $54,500. Median income is a broad measure of the economic health of the middle class.

The poverty rate also showed no statistically significant change. In 2014, the poverty rate in the United States was 14.8 percent, which was the same as in 2013. The poverty rate had dropped in 2013 from 15 percent in 2012, the first such drop since 2006.

There were 46.7 million people in poverty, which is also a statistically similar number from the previous four years. In 2014, a family with two adults and two children was categorized as in poverty if their income was less than $24,008.

Census officials said they weren’t surprised by the flat numbers. “It’s not unusual for it not to go down two years in a row,” said Trudi J. Renwick, chief of the Poverty Statistics Branch in the bureau’s Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division.

The White House focused on the fact that some of the numbers increased, though census officials noted the change was not significant. “Real median income for family households rose $408 in 2014, while real median income for non-family households also rose but overall median household income declined,” administration officials said in a news release.

Republicans argued that the stagnating numbers reveal a need for change to the country’s welfare programs.

“Our current approach to fighting poverty, though well-intended, is failing too many Americans,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. “This disappointing data, five years into an economic recovery, underscores the need for a new effort to modernize our country’s safety net programs.”

The latest numbers will feed into the 2016 political debate, with both parties trying to position themselves as advocates for the middle class.

The numbers may explain some of the political furor going on in the country, said Lawrence Mishel, president and CEO of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “Anyone wondering why people in this country are feeling so ornery need look no further than this report,” Mishel said. “Wages have been broadly stagnant for a dozen years and median household income peaked in 1999.”

The Census report also showed that the number of uninsured Americans dropped in 2014, as the big coverage expansion in President Barack Obama’s law took effect. The share of the population uninsured the whole year was 10.4 percent, or 33 million people. When compared to 2013, nearly 9 million people gained coverage. A recent government survey that includes data from the first three months of this year shows that the uninsured rate continued to fall in 2015.

The report also said:

• Asian households had the highest median income in the United States at $74,300 in 2014. The median income for non-Hispanic white households was $60,300, for black households $35,400 and Hispanic households $42,500. The median income for white households decreased by 1.7 percent between 2013 and 2014, while there was no statistically significant change for black, Asian, and Hispanic households.

• The 2014 median earning of men was $50,400, while the median earning for women was $39,600. Neither number was statistically different from 2013.

• The median income of households maintained by the foreign-born increased 4.3 percent while the median income of households maintained by a native-born person declined 2.3 percent. The income of naturalized citizens and noncitizens were not statistically different from the year before.

• The number of men and women working full-time, year-round jobs increased by 1.2 million and 1.6 million, respectively, between 2013 and 2014. Census officials said the change suggested a shift from part-time, part-year work status to full-time, year-round employment.

Study shows employers shifting more medical costs to workers

Employers are leaving a bigger chunk of the bill for care to workers who use their health insurance, and benefits experts see few signs of this trend slowing.

Most companies now offer health coverage that requires employees to pay an annual deductible before insurance kicks in, and the size of that deductible has soared in the past decade, according to a survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust.

The average general deductible for workers with single coverage totaled $1,077 this year, compared to only $303 in 2006. That deductible has climbed nearly seven times faster than wages, on average, over the past five years.

“That has an impact on family budgets,” Kaiser CEO Drew Altman said.

The study also found that 46 percent of workers with single coverage have a deductible of $1,000 or more. That’s up from only 10 percent in 2006. Kaiser’s study didn’t measure family coverage deductibles, which can be more complex, but researchers say they those have grown as well.

Altman calls this cost shift a “quiet revolution in health insurance,” obscured in recent years by the health care overhaul’s coverage expansion for people who don’t have coverage through work.

“It’s funny, we used to think of $1,000 as a very high deductible, and now it’s almost commonplace,” he said. “Consumers have much more skin in the game, and that may be fine if you’re healthier and don’t use a lot of health care. That could be a real problem if you’re chronically ill.”

Employer-sponsored health insurance is the most common form of coverage in the United States, with about 147 million people enrolled. Companies of all sizes offer coverage as a way to keep workers and make sure they stay healthy. But years of rising costs have forced many businesses to scale back their coverage. One of the quickest ways they have to control the growth in premiums, or cost of coverage, without significantly changing the insurance is to raise an employee’s deductible.

Altman said the increase in deductibles has helped restrain premium growth for the past several years. In 2015, premiums rose an average of 4 percent for single and family coverage.

The employer generally pays most of the premium and has the remaining share taken out of the employee’s pay check before taxes.

Kaiser’s research found that the size of a health plan’s deductible can depend on the employer.  Small firms had an average of $1,836, while big businesses had $1,105. Many companies pair that coverage with accounts that let employees set aside money before taxes for medical expenses.

Commercial painting company Steve Reiff Inc. offers single coverage with a deductible of $5,950. The South Whitley, Indiana, company also helps cover about half the cost of that deductible with contributions to an employee health reimbursement arrangement account, Controller Eric Trump said.

The business switched to a high-deductible plan several years ago to help restrain premium growth. That move helped, but Trump worries about leaving the roughly 30 people on their coverage with the high deductible.

“It’s really hard to like a lot of health insurance options right now,” he said. “It’s still a big expense for people that are making $10 to $15 an hour.”

Paducah, Kentucky, resident Emmett Krall says the annual deductible of $3,500 on his employer-sponsored health insurance makes him think about cost more than he wants to, especially since his 10-year-old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last year.

Krall said he has to come up with about $200 a month to cover his son’s insulin, needles and pump. The 46-year-old carpet manufacturer sales representative said he has cut down on going out to eat, and he’s watching where he spends his money.

“It causes an anxiety and a stress on my part, because I do get stressed about it, and I don’t want him to know about it,” he said.

College professor Bill Cantor said he’s seen his premium fall to only $95 a month for family coverage from around $300 since he switched to a high-deductible health plan a few years ago. He uses a health savings account to set aside money for expenses, and he likes how the plan has made him more aware of costs.

The 53-year-old said he caught a $200 mistake on a medical bill that he might have missed if insurance had just covered the claim.

“I think it would hold down insurance rates more if people thought about their spending,” said Cantor, who teaches information science and technology at Penn State’s York, Pennsylvania, campus.

Kaiser’s survey focused on benefits for this year and doesn’t predict what will happen in 2016, something many workers will learn about in a couple of months when their employers detail coverage plans for the new year.

Kaiser Vice President Gary Claxton said he doesn’t expect the trend toward higher deductibles to ease much in 2016. He noted that employers tend to make their coverage more generous as the economy improves. But companies still will be intent on controlling costs to prepare for an overhaul-imposed tax on expensive benefit plans that starts in 2018.

Obama observes Labor Day, denounces GOP for ‘constant attack on working Americans’

President Barack Obama, at a Labor Day observance, denounced Republicans for a “constant attack on working Americans.”

The president said he was using his executive power to force federal contractors to give paid sick leave to their employees.

His statement was met with resounding applause at a major union rally and breakfast in Boston on Labor Day.

The president said Republicans who claim the mantle of middle-class protectors are talking big, but they “have to walk the walk.”

Obama said opponents of his economic policies “won’t let facts or evidence get in their way.”

“You just wait, you look up at the sky and prosperity will come raining down on us from the top of whatever high-rise in New York City,” he said sarcastically. “But that’s not how the economy works.” He added that the GOP’s mindset has been “wrecking the economy for a long, long time.”

Under the executive order, employees working on federal contracts gain the right to a minimum of one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work. Stretched out over 12 months, that’s up to seven days per year. The order will allow employees to use the leave to care for sick relatives as well, and will affect contracts starting in 2017 — just as Obama leaves office.

But the White House wouldn’t specify the cost to federal contractors to implement the executive order. The Labor Department said any costs would be offset by savings that contractors would see as a result of lower attrition rates and increased worker loyalty, but produced nothing to back that up.

Obama was flanked by prominent Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a giant banner reading “Workers and Community” in red, white and blue. Labor leaders Randi Weingarten and Mary Kay Henry joined Obama for the flight on Air Force One. In the corridors of the hotel hosting the breakfast, boxes of campaign signs could be spotted bearing the name of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who opposes the trade deals.

Obama chose Labor Day to announce the executive order as he works to enact what workplace policies he can before his presidency ends despite resistance in Congress to laws he’s proposed. The push has reverberated on the 2016 campaign trail, with Democrats seeking a distinction with Republicans on who’s most supportive of the middle class.

The president didn’t mention any of the 2016 candidates by name, but invoked a number of their policies to challenge claims that they care about workers. In a reference to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he remarked incredulously that one GOP candidate had “said busting unions prepared him to fight ISIL,” an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Obama chose Massachusetts as the backdrop for his Labor Day message because voters in the state approved a similar paid leave policy state-wide. The law took effect July 1 and is expected to affect 900,000 workers who previously received no paid leave, the White House said.

Roughly 44 million American private sector workers don’t get paid sick leave, the administration said. The White House said it couldn’t estimate how many federal contractors don’t offer paid leave.

Wisconsin lost 300 jobs in June, according to preliminary report

According to numbers released today by the Current Employment Statistics program, the state lost 300 private sector jobs in June.

Although that’s nothing for Gov. Scott Walker to boast about on the presidential campaign trail, it was a better showing than in May, when the state lost 8,600 jobs and ranked dead last in the nation.

All told, Wisconsin experienced 1.49 percent job growth from June 2014 to June 2015, making the state 31st in the nation for job growth.

The numbers released today are preliminary. The final numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics should be available in a few days.

Earlier this year, a Pew Charitable Trust report showed that Wisconsin has the fastest shrinking middle class in the nation, with real median household incomes falling 14.7 percent since 2000. “Middle class” refers to people earning between 67 and 200 percent of the state’s median income.

On the campaign trail, Walker stresses the state’s unemployment rate, which is lower than the nation’s. But that measurement doesn’t take into account all the people who’ve run out of unemployment benefits but are still looking for work, those who’ve had to take lower-paying jobs and those who can find only part-time work but need to work full time.

Wisconsin’s private-sector job growth ranked 38th in the country last year, trailing the national average.

Clinton vows to crack down on Wall Street excess

Laying out her agenda to help American workers, Hillary Rodham Clinton said on July 13 that if she is elected to the White House she will seek to build a “growth and fairness economy” that would rejuvenate wages that have remained stagnant since the Great Recession.

In her first major economic speech of her presidential campaign, Clinton vowed to crack down on Wall Street excess and warned that a large field of Republican White House hopefuls would promote tax cuts and a return to policies that would balloon the national debt. She singled out three GOP candidates by name, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom she accused of failing to understand the plight of workers.

“You may have heard Gov. Bush say last week that Americans just need to work longer hours. Well, he must not have met very many American workers,” Clinton said at The New School in New York, urging Bush to speak to nurses, truckers or fast food workers. “They don’t need a lecture. They need a raise.”

Bush, during an event in Sioux City, Iowa, said Clinton believed that it didn’t matter that 6.5 million people were only able to work part-time instead of holding full-time jobs. “Hillary Clinton believes that 2 percent growth, apparently the new normal, is acceptable,” Bush said.

He told reporters that Clinton’s “policies are going to suppress wage growth. Her policies are a continuation of the Obama economics which has been a complete disaster.” Republicans note that under President Barack Obama, the workplace participation rate has declined to its lowest level since 1977.

In an agenda-setting address, Clinton sought to appeal to liberal voters within her party who have questioned her willingness to regulate Wall Street and have rallied behind her chief Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The message also appeared aimed at anxious voters who have seen little gains in their paychecks even as the nation moves past the Great Recession.

“As the shadow of crisis recedes and longer-term challenges come into focus, I believe we have to build a growth and fairness economy,” Clinton said. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Clinton said she would propose more public investment in infrastructure projects, advance renewable energy and promote tax cuts for small business owners. She expressed support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, an overhaul to the tax code, and policy proposals related to child care and paid family leave.

Clinton, who maintained strong ties to Wall Street as a New York senator, pushed back against the industry, saying the largest financial institutions had too often focused on short-term profits instead of helping grow the economy.

She expressed outrage at accounts of money laundering and currency manipulation involving several major financial firms, calling them “shocking,” and promised criminal prosecutions of bad bankers. One of the firms she identified, HSBC, paid former President Bill Clinton $200,000 to speak at a Florida conference in 2011, an appearance that was cleared by the State Department despite an ongoing federal money-laundering probe that led HSBC to reach a 2012 settlement with prosecutors.

The former secretary of state said few rogue traders had faced consequences for malfeasance, a subtle swipe at the Obama administration, which took no action against the individual financial titans who pursued risky fiscal practices. “This is wrong, and on my watch it will change,” she said.

Clinton also vowed to expand the Dodd-Frank law passed by Congress in 2010, which tightened regulation of financial institutions, and said she would bolster government oversight of hedge funds and high-frequency traders.

The speech offered Clinton’s most extensive critique of Bush, a top contender for the GOP nomination.

Clinton said the nation’s economy should not be measured by “some arbitrary growth targets untethered to people’s lives and livelihoods.” That was a veiled reference to Bush, who has said he would set a goal of 4 percent economic growth, including 19 million jobs, if elected president.

She also lobbed criticism at Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was launching his campaign on July 13. Rubio’s tax proposal is a “budget-busting giveaway to the super-wealthy,” Clinton said, and she called Walker an example of a GOP governor who had made his name “stomping on workers’ rights.”

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said Clinton wanted to “take us back to yesterday, but we cannot raise taxes like the 1990s or increase spending like the 2000s. Marco is proposing a 21st century tax plan that would benefit all Americans, especially middle-class families.”

Clinton, meanwhile, made no mention of Sanders, who has wooed Democrats by making economic inequality the central plank of his insurgent campaign.

President outlines rule changes, says more workers deserve overtime pay

President Barack Obama on June 30 said the Department of Labor will propose extending overtime pay to nearly 5 million workers.

The White House, in a fact sheet released on June 30, said the proposal would guarantee overtime pay to most salaried workers earning less than an estimated $50,440 next year.

The salary threshold guarantees overtime for most salaried workers who fall below it, but it is eroded by inflation every year and has only been updated once since the 1970s.

The current threshold is $23,660 — $455 per week — which is below the poverty threshold for a family of four and only 8 percent of full-time salaried workers fall below the threshold.

The White House said the president directed the secretary of labor to update regulations relating to who qualifies for overtime pay to again reflect the intent of the Fair Labor Standards Act and to simplify the rules so they’re easier for workers and businesses to understand and apply.

The Labor Department’s proposal involves:

• Raising the threshold under which most salaried workers are guaranteed overtime to equal the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers. This would raise the salary threshold from $455 a week to a projected level of $970 a week or $50,440 a year in 2016.

• Extend overtime pay and the minimum wage to nearly 5 million workers within the first year of its implementation, of which 56 percent are women and 53 percent have at least a college degree.

• Provide greater clarity for millions more workers so they — and their employers — can determine more easily if they should be receiving overtime pay.

• Prevent a future erosion of overtime and ensure greater predictability by automatically updating the salary threshold based on inflation or wage growth over time.

The proposal does not include specific regulatory changes to the so-called “duties test” that determines whether salaried workers earning more than the threshold are entitled to an exemption from overtime rules.

Hourly workers would generally continue to receive overtime pay, as they do under current rules.

Consistent with the normal rulemaking process, when the Labor Department’s notice is published, there will be a comment period.

Reaction to the announcement …

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, said, “I applaud the president for lifting wages for nearly 5 million hard working Americans. Far too many people these days are working more hours for less pay and struggling to make ends meet. The President’s proposed overtime rule will level playing field for employees — providing them with appropriate compensation for their hard work.”

U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva and Keith Ellison, co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a joint statement, “We applaud President Obama for standing with American families who deserve fair pay for their hard work. People all over the country are working longer hours, but their paychecks continue to come up short. The Progressive Caucus believes that in the richest nation on earth, no one working overtime should worry about making ends meet. This new overtime rule is a powerful step towards that goal, helping nearly 5 million Americans feed their families, pay their rent, or clothe their children. We look forward to working with President Obama to continue putting more money in the pockets of America’s working families.” 

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

Analysis: Walker’s presidential campaign cherry-picks economic data

Scott Walker has transformed Wisconsin politics, winning three elections in four years and signing laws that weaken unions, crippling a key ally of the Democratic Party.

But the likely Republican presidential contender has had less success changing Wisconsin’s economy and budget. The state lags in job growth and its budget faces a shortfall. It’s a record that complicates Walker’s path in early primary states as he sells his Wisconsin record as a showcase of what he’ll do for the nation.

“Most of his activity was more politically focused than economically, job-creation focused,” said John Torinus, a Milwaukee businessman and venture capitalist who nevertheless praises some of Walker’s moves. “He was going to concentrate on job creation with a laser-like focus and he got distracted.”

Wisconsin has added private-sector jobs at a lower rate than the national average since July 2011 — six months after Walker took office. Walker promised in the 2010 campaign that if elected his policies would create 250,000 private sector jobs. But only about 145,000 such jobs were created over his first four years.

Wisconsin ranked 40th in private sector job growth for the 12 months ending in September, said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Walker has called hiring in his state the “gold standard” for measuring his performance.

Still, the state has seen a higher rate of new businesses starting than the rest of the country and income growth for Wisconsin residents has exceeded the national average.

But at the same time, Wisconsin is in the top tier of states in which the middle class is rapidly shrinking, according to a state-by-state analysis conducted the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin households belonged to the middle class, which is defined as those earning between 67 percent and 200 percent of a state’s median income. By 2013, less than half — 48.9 percent — of Wisconsin households were defined as middle class. In Wisconsin, inflation-adjusted income fell from $60,344 in 2000 to $51,467 in 2013.

Walker, with the help of the state’s pervasive right-wing media, has cherry-picked data that paints a far rosier picture, and Walker’s many die-hard fans choose to believe only the positive numbers — even when their own lives reflect the contrary. They’ve become something of a personality cult, bristling at any information that reflects negatively on the governor.

As a result, Wisconsin is one of the most politically divided states in the nation, with a line drawn in quicksand between Walker’s die-hard faithful and progressives. The latter are alarmed by his massive cuts to education, huge tax giveaways to the very wealthy, relaxation of environmental regulations, the adoption of photo ID laws to give GOP candidates an electoral advantage and a host of other controversial policy moves. Others are angry over the constant questions of corruption and pay-for-play that hover over his political career.

Walker’s political group Our American Revival is concentrating on spinning his record as one of economic success.

“The governor is now taking his reform ideas that led to this economic success in Wisconsin and sharing them nationally,” said spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

Of course, not all of the state’s economic woes are Walker’s fault alone. Heavily reliant on manufacturing, Wisconsin has perennially lagged the nation in job creation and often used fiscal tricks to paper over budget deficits. Walker vowed to change that when he ran in 2010, but his latest budget resorts to the same tricks.

The Republican right adores Walker over his signature move, just six weeks into his first term in 2011, to curtail public unions’ collective bargaining power while also forcing them to pay more for pension and health care benefits.

Following weeks of protests, and the fleeing of Democratic state senators for three weeks to try to block a vote, Walker got his way. That drama, along with Walker’s 2012 recall victory and other laws he’s signed legalizing concealed weapons and last month’s right-to-work law are central in his stump speech, as he presents himself as a man of action with a record of conservative accomplishments.

M. Kevin McGee, an economist at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said Wisconsin’s job performance kept pace with its Midwestern peers until Walker took office. Then it fell behind. His theory: Walker’s public sector union moves, and subsequent benefit cuts, shocked those workers into cutting consumer spending.

“What happened here changed the behavior of enough people in the state that it affected economic growth,” McGee said.

Last year, facing forecasts of a nearly $1 billion increase in tax revenue, Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature passed an $800 million tax-cut package. The state is on pace to collect only about half of the tax revenue previously projected, exacerbating the latest budget problem.

“We dug our own hole,” said former state Sen Mike Ellis, a Republican, adding that he still thinks the fiscal picture is better than when Walker took office.

Heading into this year the state faced an $800 million shortfall just to continue spending at the current level and $2.2 billion when state agency requests were taken into consideration. Walker’s plan calls for more massive education cuts and borrowing more than $1 billion to pay for roads. The proposal has run into widespread opposition, including from Republicans.

Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said Walker’s initial budgets were responsible, but the more recent ones resemble those of his Democratic precedessor, Jim Doyle.

Berry said the state’s lackluster jobs record shows Walker overpromised in the campaign. Governors, he noted, rarely have a significant impact on job creation. “This slow rate of job growth is nothing new,” Berry said.

The Associated Press contributed to this analysis.


Regional Gaze: Wisconsin in top tier of states losing their middle class

Wisconsin in top tier of states losing their middle class

The middle class is shrinking in every state in America, and Wisconsin is in the top tier of those where the middle class has experienced the most severe erosion, according to a state-by-state analysis on the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline blog.

In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin households belonged to the middle class, which is defined as those earning between 67 percent and 200 percent of a state’s median income. By 2013, less than half — 48.9 percent — of Wisconsin households were defined as middle class.

The blog showed that median income dropped in most states during the same years. In Wisconsin, inflation-adjusted income fell from $60,344 in 2000 to $51,467 in 2013.

In addition to Wisconsin, Ohio, North Dakota, Nevada and New Mexico experience the largest declines in middle-class households over the 13-year span. Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii suffered the least declines.

The analysis also showed that an increasing percentage of households are paying at least 30 percent of their total income on housing. In Wisconsin, 24 percent of households spent at last 30 percent of their income on housing in 2000, but by 2013 the rate had grown to 31 percent.

UW-Madison researcher changes Monkey Study

A mental health researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison won’t take newborn monkeys away from their mothers as part of an upcoming study.

Dr. Ned Kalin told the Wisconsin State Journal that complaints from animal rights groups weren’t behind the change in the study. Rather, he says other research found anxiety isn’t increased when newborn monkeys are separated from their mothers.

More than 383,000 people had signed an online petition asking that the study be canceled. The study plans to put monkeys through stress tests and euthanize them after a year to study their brains.

In other regional news …

• Still lagging: Wisconsin has fallen into a tie for 38th place in private-sector job growth over the past year, trailing the neighboring states of Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Iowa. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state’s private-sector job growth rate is at 1.16 percent — half the national rate of 2.3 percent.

• UNDER THE BUS: The Koch-backed effort to halt Milwaukee’s proposed streetcar project never left the station. Hoping to kill the project, foes mounted a drive to get at least 31,000 signatures calling for a voter referendum on any project costing $20 million or more. But they fell 6,000 votes short.

• VAPED OUT: The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association and American Heart Association filed objections to proposed Wisconsin legislation that would prohibit local governments from including electronic cigarettes in smoke-free air ordinances. The groups said marketing of the cigarettes has outpaced science-based research on the products.

• DISCUSSING DISABILITY: Hundreds of disability advocates went to the state Capitol on March 18 to lobby lawmakers on policy issues and oppose dramatic changes to state disabilities programs proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.

• ICE ARRESTS: Wisconsin’s immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera reported that local law enforcement agencies and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained at least 40 people in Wisconsin and more than 2,000 people in the United States during the first week of March. The exercise was called “Operation Cross-Check.” “ICE is a rogue agency that continues to criminalize millions of working-class people and traumatize families and communities to meet an arbitrary detention quota,” said Voces executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. 

• BUDGET UNBALANCE: The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has weighed in on Scott Walker’s proposed state budget, arguing that the budget “repeatedly recommends a weakening of the checks and balances which protect citizens from political swings in government” and that many budget provisions don’t deal with fiscal matters.

Clinton: Nation must deal with income inequality

Approaching a likely presidential campaign announcement next month, Hillary Rodham Clinton said this week that income inequality and wage stagnation are problems that go hand-in-hand and the nation needs creative solutions to bolster job opportunities and living conditions in the cities.

Clinton, at a discussion about urban areas, cited the benefits of partnerships between the private and public sectors and updated policies to improve social mobility. The policy event offered a preview of economic themes she is likely to address in a campaign.

“We need to think hard about what we’re going to do now that people are moving back into and staying in cities to make sure that our cities are not just places of economic prosperity and job creation on average,” Clinton said. “But do it in a way that lifts everybody up to deal with the overriding issues of inequality and lack of mobility.”

Her appearance at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank founded by allies of her husband, offered no new clues on the timing of her announcement, but plenty of presidential atmospherics. Clinton was joined by Housing Secretary Julian Castro, considered a potential running mate for Clinton by some Democrats, and the heads of a public workers union and teachers union, two of Clinton’s most ardent labor allies.

Neera Tanden, a former Hillary Clinton policy adviser, is president of the center and moderated the discussion while the think tank’s founder, John Podesta, sat in the front row. Podesta, a former Bill Clinton chief of staff, is expected to take a senior position in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton later met with President Barack Obama at the White House, where the two discussed “a range of topics,” the White House said.

Many Democrats support boosting wages and household income and argue that many families have yet to benefit from an improving job market. Liberals, led most visibly by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, say the party has become too intertwined with Wall Street and needs bold strategies to address inequality.

Clinton said economic problems have been acutely felt by young people, with more than 5 million people between the ages of 16 and 24 not in school or employed and in need of job skills and training. She urged leaders to get out of their “ideological bunkers” and said they could learn from the work of one panelist, Mayor Aja Brown of Compton, Calif., on curbing gang violence.

“Don’t be surprised if you get a call to come and maybe we’ll start not too far from here in a beautiful domed building,” Clinton said to laughter, referring to the U.S. Capitol. “Get everybody in the same room and start that conversation that could lead to collaboration and better results for our cities and our country.”

Joined at the event by Lee Saunders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Clinton made no mention of a trade proposal backed by Obama called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Some labor unions worry she might support the initiative, which they see as undermining jobs, environmental standards and worker rights. They call it “NAFTA on steroids” in a reference to the North American trade pact Clinton’s husband piloted with Canada and Mexico in the 1990s.

Clinton ended the day at an awards ceremony honoring the legacy of Robin Toner, the first woman to serve as national political correspondent for The New York Times. Toner, who died in December 2008, covered Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and the Clinton White House.

Hillary Clinton joked that her relationship with the press “has been at times, shall we say, complicated.” She quipped that she was all about “new beginnings,” including a new grandchild, “another new hairstyle” and a “new email account.” She did not take questions from reporters at the event.

It was the final event on her public schedule for the rest of March.

Wisconsin’s middle-class among fastest shrinking, and state’s job-growth rate sinks to bottom fifth

The middle class is shrinking in every state in America, and Wisconsin is in the top tier of those where the middle class has experienced the most severe erosion, according to a state-by-state analysis on the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline blog.

In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin households belonged to the middle class, which is defined as those earning between 67 and 200 percent of a state’s median income. By 2013, less than half — 48.9 percent — of Wisconsin households were defined as middle class.

The blog showed that median income dropped in most states during the same years. In Wisconsin, inflation-adjusted income fell from $60,344 in 2000 to $51,467 in 2013.

In addition to Wisconsin, Ohio, North Dakota, Nevada, and New Mexico experience the largest declines in middle-class households over the 13-year span. Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii suffered the least declines.

The analysis also showed that an increasing percentage of households are paying at least 30 percent of their total income on housing. In Wisconsin, 24 percent of households spent at last 30 percent of their income on housing in 2000, but by 2013 the rate had grown to 31 percent.

Meanwhile, new figures released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics contain yet more bad economic news for Wisconsin: The state has fallen into a tie for 38th place in private-sector job growth over the past year, trailing the neighboring states of Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa. The numbers, which are derived from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, reveal the state’s private-sector job growth rate at 1.16 percent —half the national rate of 2.3 percent.