During the COVID-19 crisis, pandemic relief measures like the federal government child tax credit and earned income tax credit helped families make ends meet despite spikes in unemployment.
At the same time, racial disparities in poverty rates have not budged.
children aheadan organization focused on promoting access to opportunity for children and families in Wisconsin, recently compiled new data from 2021 American Community Survey and found that Wisconsin’s Official Poverty Measure (OPM) rate, which measures pre-tax income, increased slightly from 10.4% in 2019 to 10.8% in 2021.
More than one in eight children statewide lived in poverty in 2021 (13.4%), virtually unchanged from 13.5% in 2019.
“Given the COVID-19 pandemic, we might have expected to see the biggest increase in poverty ever for children and families in Wisconsin, but that was not the case,” said Michele Mackey. , CEO of Kids Forward, in a statement. “Federal and state COVID-19 relief measures and other investments have literally saved families.”
Benefits have helped fight poverty
In addition to the official poverty measure, the U.S. Census Bureau records the Supplementary Poverty Measure (SPM), which includes benefits families receive from economic security programs, including refundable tax credits, payments stimulus, social security, SNAP (or food assistance), housing assistance and more.
By measuring the MPS, which also accounts for geographic variation in the cost of living, poverty has decreased across Wisconsin. Data from SPM shows that 5.4% of Wisconsin residents lived in poverty from 2019 to 2021, a decrease of 2.1% from the 7.5% rate from 2017-2019.
“The SPM shows us that policy levers, from refundable tax credits and extensions to food assistance, have had a significant impact on children and families in Wisconsin,” said Carte’cia Lawrence, principal analyst of the racial equity policies for Kids Forward. “We should use these strategies to fight poverty permanently.
Despite this positive trend, the new Official Poverty Data (OPM) for Wisconsin also shows disparities. Three in 10 black residents of Wisconsin lived in poverty in 2021 (29.5%), three times more than white residents at 8.4%. Additionally, nearly one in five Native Americans in Wisconsin struggled to make ends meet.
The data also shows that Hispanic/Latin residents and those who identify as multicultural were twice as likely to live in poverty as white residents.
Lawrence explained that the 2021 census data was compared to the 2019 data because those are the most recent numbers unaffected by the pandemic. The census also allows people to add up to six races instead of three.
“In response, we are seeing a drastic increase in the number of people identifying with two or more races,” she added. “This may impact both the 2021 race and ethnicity data and the comparability of the 2021 data with previous years.”
There are programs and policies that could be implemented to help improve the lives of Wisconsin families, Lawrence said, including rental and homeownership assistance to combat affordability. housing and the prevention of evictions, the expansion of the earned income tax credit, affordable health insurance, paid leave for low-wage workers, and permanent and increased child tax credits.
She believes that implementing policies designed to help low-income families of color and those in rural communities will benefit all families in Wisconsin.
Tax credits that helped keep Wisconsin families afloat during the pandemic have expired, and Kids Forward leaders are pushing for an extension from Congress. Wisconsin lawmakers failed to enact a refundable child tax credit at the state level, which the organization says has left thousands of families across the state struggling with inflation.
“Based on what we’ve seen from census data, if lawmakers had enacted a refundable child tax credit at the state level, it’s highly likely that we would have seen even greater declines. of child poverty than the modest ones we observed for very young children,” Laurent said. “We might also have seen a greater impact on poverty rates for people of color, who are overrepresented in state poverty data.”
Focus on racial equity
Lawrence’s role as Senior Racial Equity Policy Analyst was created because “Kids Forward wanted to become more intentional in advocating for change starting with the experiences and voices of BIPOC and rural children and families” , she said.
“We are committed to challenging the status quo.”
She joined the team in September and hopes to lead the organization in integrating racial equity into its research, analysis, engagement and advocacy work, in addition to advising state agencies and representing Kids. Forward in councils and coalitions.
“We understand that real progress toward ending systemic racism happens slowly and incrementally,” Lawrence said. “We are committed to addressing systemic racism by highlighting disparities through disaggregated data and lived experience, listening to BIPOC and rural communities about their needs and solutions, and holding responsible decision makers.