WHAT HAPPENED TO ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY IN WISCONSIN?
Dr. Robert Kraig (Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin), spoke in Wausau on rising poverty rates in Wisconsin.
Since 2001 the middle class of Wisconsin has shrunk the most of any state, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. Clearly this is a bi-partisan problem. The job growth since 2008 has been in service jobs with poverty wages.
According to DIP (Department of Public Instruction) Chart for Free Lunches, many Wisconsin children are in poverty. In Wausau the rate of children eligible for free lunch at school is 50%.
To change the thinking about poverty, we need constant repetition. Keep repeating that it is for the common good to raise wages. It is bad for the economy when people don’t make enough money to keep on consuming. “It is an easily understood idea that when people have more money in their pockets to afford the basics, it helps the local economy and creates more jobs,” says Kraig.
One thing lacking in Wisconsin’s approach to job growth is strategy. There is no strategy for how WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) spends its money. No one is held accountable and there is no connection to the goal of ridding poverty or any other goal for the common good.
WEDC spends $800 million in Wisconsin to produce jobs, with no strategy and no goals. It gives dollars to companies that outsource jobs out of Wisconsin. Where is the public interest in all of this?
Nationwide, the US spends $80 billion to keep companies within a state or to move companies from one state across the border to another. Think what $80 billion could do to eradicate poverty. Clearly, a strategy is needed with systems and accountability.
Kraig used the example of England and its anti-poverty system. In the early 1990’s, the child poverty in England was 30 per cent. England set a goal to rid poverty by 2020.
Their strategy included a social program for job training, child care, transportation and housing. Each program was carefully tracked. The programs were evidence-based. If the programs worked, they were kept. If not successful, the programs were stopped.
Economic development was connected with the goal of elimination of poverty.
Churches and foundations were welcomed to work with the English government. The approach was successful with the poverty rate of children reduced by 2/3 in England.
Kraig proposed a faith-based anti-poverty plan for Wisconsin.
- Establish the goal of cutting poverty 50 percent in 10 years in Wisconsin.
- Base it on evidence and careful accounting.
- Measure the results of the programs and adjust accordingly.
- A strong commitment to the goal is needed. The goal cannot be changed with the change of governor or legislature.
The best way to use investments is to help the most people. Advance a common goal, one that the entire state focuses on. Move beyond blaming and finding fault. Commit to the goal and put the strategies in place. Hold to the time line of 10 years.
Some things we can only provide together. This needs to be explained over and over and over. Government is what we make of it. Use it for the most good for the most people.
Change at first comes very slowly, but then public opinion can change rapidly.
The event was sponsored by AAUW (Association of American University Women)-Wausau Branch and WIPPS (Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service).