Tag Archives: Wisconsinites

Wisconsin poverty rate up from 2007, median income down

Nearly a quarter of a million Wisconsin children lived below the poverty line in 2014, according to new census data released in September.

The state poverty rate was 10.8 percent in 2007, but rose to 13.2 percent last year. About 738,000 people in the state were living in poverty in 2014, 150,000 more than in 2007.

Other numbers indicate the economic recovery since the recession has boosted incomes for wealthier Wisconsinites but the rest have not seen much increase in incomes — if any — since before 2007. The median income for Wisconsin households in 2014 was $56,622, more than $5,000 less than in 2007.

Taking race into consideration, the income disparities are extreme. The poverty rate for people who identified as black or African-American was 37.7 percent in 2014 compared to 9.6 among white non-Hispanic Wisconsinites. The poverty rate for black children was 49.4 percent, four times the rate of white non-Hispanic children.

And the median income for African-American households was $26,100 in 2014, less than half the $56,100 earned by white non-Hispanic households, according to an analysis of the census data by the nonprofit Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

“Wisconsin simply can’t accept three quarters of a million Wisconsinites living in poverty as the ‘new normal,’” said Ken Taylor, executive director of the WCCF. “The economy isn’t working for everyone, resulting in too many families not making ends meet. We need to make sure everyone has the opportunity to climb the economic ladder and build a secure future.”

WCCF’s recommendations to decrease the poverty rate include a hike in the minimum wage along with cost-of-living adjustments, reversal of the 2011 cuts to the state earned income tax credit for low-income families and an expansion of BadgerCare to cover all adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. “No policymaker who claims to care about Wisconsin’s future can justify ignoring poverty,” Taylor said in a news statement. “We’re all in this together. If Wisconsin is going to thrive, everyone needs a shot at opportunity.”

The new data showed the national poverty rate at 15.5 percent in 2014, down slightly from 15.8 percent in 2013.

The census bureau released the information about two weeks before the U.S. visit of Pope Francis, who has prioritized addressing poverty and income inequality.

Francis, who met with President Barack Obama at the White House and delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress, addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 25. 

He referred frequently to the poor and linked extreme poverty to the overconsumption and waste that is wrecking the planet. “Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment,” Francis said. “The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing culture of waste.”

Two days later, in his address to the General Assembly, President Barack Obama committed the United States to the U.N.’s new goals for eliminating poverty and hunger by 2030. 

Commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, Obama said, is “not charity but instead is one of the smartest investments we can make in our own future.”

The goals include eradicating extreme poverty, expanding peace and good governance, combating inequality and discrimination, raising living standards and quelling climate change.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said “further progress will require an unswerving political will and collective, long-term effort. We need to tackle root causes and do more to integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.”

Marching to protect our homes

Many Wisconsinites will be heading to New York City to join the largest climate event in history, the Peoples’ Climate March, on Sept. 21. Why are so many of us so keen to go so far? The answer lies in yesterday’s heroes and today’s backyards.

We are blessed to be living in a state with great natural beauty. We enjoy an abundance of lakes, rivers, wetlands and meadows that are home to many plants and animals. Whether for growing crops, producing dairy, hiking, fishing, hunting or just enjoying the outdoors, the state’s natural resources are priceless. 

We also have an unusually strong tradition of conservation, with a history of wilderness champions. John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, Aldo Leopold, Joseph Hickey, Owen Gromme and much beloved former DNR Secretary “Buzz” Besadny are shining examples of Wisconsin’s conservation ethic, and their legacies are an important part of what it means to be a Wisconsinite. 

Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s natural heritage is under increasing threat from many directions. One of the most direct threats: pipelines carrying toxic tar sands. These pipelines have proven unreliable, with catastrophic spills from which the environment has not recovered. Many people have heard of the Keystone XL pipeline, but few know that there is a pipeline running through Wisconsin, even through Dane County, and that it is projected to carry even more tar sands than the Keystone XL.

The threat posed to Wisconsin farms, communities, water, woodlands and people far outweighs any benefit. Tar sands originate in Canada, pass through our state and are refined elsewhere or shipped to global markets. So, the cost of a spill will be directly on us. 

Wisconsin also is under siege from “bomb trains,” where as many as 100 rail cars carrying explosive Bakken crude oil travel through some communities every day. Billions continue to be made by the purveyors of fossil fuels while Wisconsin, like much of the United States, experiences increasing extremes of weather that cost the local economy dearly. 

But it’s not just the direct impacts of fossil fuels that are causing problems. Wisconsin has already started to feel the burn of global warming. For example, the detailed records kept by Aldo Leopold in 1935 have been used to show that as temperatures have warmed, seasons have shifted. 

Outside our state, climate change — which 97 percent of the scientific community links to fossil fuel use — leads to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the Arctic and Antarctica; acidification of the sea, with loss of fish and coral; and rises in sea level. And there is increasing concern from scientists that we will reach a “tipping point” of runaway, unstoppable climate change. 

So people from Wisconsin will be marching in New York because we care about the fate of the Earth, because we care about the fate of our own backyards, our kids, our wildlife, lakes, farms, rivers, and streams. And we march to carry on the legacy of Wisconsin’s environmental heroes: Muir, Leopold and Besadny. 

Mary Beth Elliott is the coordinator of the People’s Climate March. For more details on the march, visit peoplesclimatemarch.org or 350madison.wordpress.com.

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Ignoring polls, Walker bows to ‘NRA masters’

Gov. Scott Walker said his administration would not push for more extensive background checks for gun owners in Wisconsin, despite recent polls showing overwhelming public support for the concept both in the state and nationally.

A Marquette University Law School poll released in March found that 81 percent of Wisconsinites favor background checks for people who purchase firearms at gun shows or from private residents, while only 18 percent oppose them. The response numbers were almost identical for people who own guns and those who don’t. The level of support was also nearly the same among men and women, as well as among residents in all parts of the state.

About 54 percent of Wisconsinites also said they favor banning military-style assault weapons, while 43 percent opposed such a ban.

Support for gun control reform seems to have spiked following the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December. Mass shootings last year at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and at the Azana Salon and Spa in Brookfield brought the growing problem of gun violence closer to home.

Walker has received extensive funding from the National Rifle Association, which vehemently opposes all background checks, including those designed to prevent convicts and people with a history of mental illness from buying guns, ammunition and explosives.

The NRA provided $815,000 in independent campaign support for Walker’s recall race last year, and the NRA Political Victory Fund gave $10,000 directly to his campaign. The latter was the single largest contribution made by the political action committee in 2012, according to the National Institute on State Money in Politics.

Walker maintains an A-plus rating with the NRA, and he was a featured speaker at the group’s national convention last year. The group has praised Walker for signing laws allowing Wisconsin residents to carry concealed weapons and providing legal protection to homeowners who shoot and kill intruders on their property. Both actions are high on the NRA’s priority list.

Gun control advocates in some states had hoped reform would come from a federal measure to require background checks for people purchasing guns and ammunition over the Internet and at gun shows. The proposal was the most serious attempt at gun-control reform in the past 20 years.

But the U.S. Senate nixed the proposal last month, and it faced likely defeat in the House, where tea party adherents largely control the agenda.

The proposal needed 60 votes to clear the Senate but received only 55. Forty-two Senators, including four Democrats, voted no. Wisconsin’s Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin voted for the bill, but Republican Sen. Ron Johnson voted against it.

Wisconsin currently requires people who purchase guns from federally licensed dealers to undergo background checks, but the state doesn’t regulate private transactions. Democrats have introduced a bill in the Legislature calling for universal background checks, which would make it illegal to buy or sell most firearms in the state without a background check.

But Walker said the issue should be left to the federal government to regulate, not individual states.

State Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said Walker and Republican legislative leaders who have refused to act on the bill he introduced were showing a “failure of leadership.”

“They need to listen to people around the country, and certainly people in this state, who overwhelmingly feel that having background checks is important to have when you transfer guns,” Richards said.

The NRA has registered its opposition to Richards’ gun background check bill in Wisconsin. The measure appears all but dead in the Legislature given Walker’s position and opposition from Republican leaders.

The bill has generated support from Elvin Daniel, whose sister Zina Haughton was among seven people shot in an attack by her husband at the Azana spa in Brookfield last October. Haughton’s husband bought the handgun from a private owner just days before the shooting and after she was granted a restraining order against him.

Backers of the Democrats’ bill, including Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, argue a universal background check law may have prevented his purchase of the gun.

But Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, has called the Democrats’ bill an unnecessary political stunt that would deny gun owners’ constitutional rights. Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the bill is going nowhere.

Walker’s mental health

In announcing his opposition to any form of gun control, Walker said he would direct efforts to curb gun-related violence by providing better mental health care. Walker has proposed adding about $29 million in funding for mental health programs in the state, including community-based care for adults and children with severe mental illness.

The spending plan also would establish an Office of Children’s Mental Health.

“For us that’s really where we’re going to put our focal point on,” Walker said. “The bigger issue seems to be treating chronic, untreated mental illness.”

Progressive leaders in Wisconsin say they’re puzzled by Walker’s sudden interest in mental health services. which took a serious hit when he refused to extend BadgerCare to about 175,000 Wisconsin residents. The program provides health care services to the working poor, but Walker chose to cut its rolls rather than take federal dollars attached to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which the governor rejects on ideological grounds.  Despite the objections of business and health care organizations in the state, Walker turned down $66 million in federal health dollars – dollars that Wisconsin taxpayers help to pay for.

Walker also distanced himself from health care reform by rejecting calls from Wisconsin’s medical and busineess leaders to create state-based insurance exchanges,

“There’s no question more funding for mental health services in Wisconsin is a good thing. But there’s also no question, based on his abysmal record, that Gov. Walker is not doing it out of concern for Wisconsinites struggling with mental health issues, but rather to advance his presidential ambitions and serve his National Rifle Association masters,” said One Wisconsin Now deputy director Mike Browne.

Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch, a former mental health nurse, said she’s pleased the governor is giving some attention to mental health, but she objects to the way he’s positioning it as a gun violence issue.

“One of the primary reasons people don’t seek mental health care is due to the stigma attached to it, and now the governor is linking it with gun violence in a very public way,” Pasch said. “If he wanted to link (the two), it should be in the context that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.”

Pasch also questioned whether the amount of funding requested by the governor is even enough to compensate for the loss of access to care resulting from Walker’s BadgerCare  cuts. She said that $12.5 million included in his $29 million mental health budget proposal is designated for people who are already incarcerated for crimes but are too unstable to stand trial.

“That money is just for Mendota (Mental Health Institute’s) forensic unit for people who have been arrested and may have a mental heath problem,” Pasch said. The new funding will get them out of jail and into the institute, where they can be brought up to a competency level to participate in their defense, she explained.

Pasch said the remaining money in the mental health budget would have to be divided among 72 counties, many of which lack mental health care providers and suffer from a scarcity of primary care physicians. For instance, the entire state north of  Wausau has only one or two child psychologists, Pasch said.

“It looks like the governor’s doing something, but it’s a misguided effort,” she concluded. “He needs to deal with guns and he needs to deal with mental health.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Wisconsin Wave, activists rally at Capitol

Hundreds of Wisconsinites on Jan. 10 gathered outside the state Capitol with the Wisconsin Wave, organizers of the “Rally to Reject This Puppet Legislature.”

Speakers and demonstrators delivered to lawmakers their message that the majority party – the GOP – has no democratic authority to govern “because the fall general election was rigged via unprecedented, hyper-partisan gerrymandering,” according to a news release.

“The Republicans lost the statewide popular vote in the Assembly by over 167,000 votes, yet they retain a 60-39 majority,” said Sarah Manski of the Wisconsin Wave. “They also lost the statewide popular vote in the Senate by more than 100,000, yet now enjoy an 18-15 majority there.”

Manski continued, “This is the most egregious level of gerrymandering in Wisconsin history, yet the majority party is planning on again forcing through an anti-worker, anti-child, anti-environment agenda that Wisconsin did not vote for. That’s not democracy in any sense of the word, that’s tyranny! We call on the Legislature to resign, and for new elections to be held following a non-partisan redistricting process.”

Rally speakers included Andy Heidt of AFSCME Local 1871, Kerry Motoviloff of Madison Teachers Inc., environmentalist Carl Sack of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice and Eleni Schirmer of the Teaching Assistants’ Association, who urged unity in fighting to protect the Wisconsin way of life.

“We’re only going to win this fight by moving forward together,” Schirmer said.

Heidt said, “We must join together and rise up with even greater strength than we did two years ago. The stakes are just as high, and only a mass movement targeting the power behind this anti-democratic agenda will stop it.”

Motoviloff said Wisconsin’s K-12 education system was under assault. “It is the moral responsibility of every leader to ensure that our educational system is adequately funded. Until that happens we will continue to be here at the Capitol representing the majority of Wisconsinites who support fully funding our public schools.”

Sack spoke about possible mining rules changes in Wisconsin: “We all need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and living wage jobs to support our families. The proposed iron mine in the Penokee hills would give us none of those things, desecrating northern Wisconsin’s environment while funneling the wealth of our communities to out-of-state interests.”

Polls have bad news for Scott Walker, GOP

A solid majority of Wisconsinites disapprove of Gov. Scott Walker’s job performance and don’t like the way things are headed in the GOP-controlled state, according to a poll released July 13.

The University of Wisconsin Survey Center’s Badger Poll found that 59 percent of residents disapprove of Walker, and 55 percent disapprove of the direction of the state. The latter figure is an all-time high for the poll.

Sixty percent of residents disapprove of the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of Wisconsinites feel that state government is run for the benefit of a few big interests over that of the people.

Wisconsin residents’ disapproval rating for Congress has grown from 64 percent to 69 percent since the GOP took over the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Badger Poll showed that President Obama’s approval rating in Wisconsin is up slightly at 50 percent, one percent higher than a year ago.

“There are a lot of voters who gave Republicans a chance last November and we are seeing a pretty serious case of buyer’s remorse,” said Mike Tate, chairman of the state’s Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, voter turnout in the July 12 Democratic primary races in the state was considerably higher than had been predicted.

The Democratic candidates who are running against GOP senators in six recall races were forced into July 12 primaries when Republicans pretending to be Democrats ran against them in an attempt to trick voters. All six actual Democrats prevailed in the fake races, which cost taxpayers more than $400,000.

In the GOP’s three most vulnerable districts, turnout was extremely high – as much as 88 percent of the turnout last fall in hotly contested, high-profile races.