Marquette Wire

Poverty

andrew.johnson@marquette.edu

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The American Community Survey was started in 1996 as a means of improving the decennial census process, Nelson said. It offers yearly demographic, social, housing and economic data for a variety of population groups, ranging from states to counties and cities.

Poverty experts, however, say the statistics portrayed in the study can not be viewed as entirely accurate.

“I don’t make much of this,” said Thomas Kaplan, executive director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said the sample size is not large enough to disseminate accurate statistics for the city.

“I think if the American Community Survey is going to function as the Census Bureau wants it to, then they’re going to have to use larger sample sizes,” he said.

Kaplan suspects if an increase did occur between 2001 and 2002, it probably stemmed from Milwaukee’s economy make-up.

“If there was indeed an increase, it could result from the fact that Milwaukee is an industrial-based economy,” Kaplan said. In recent years, much of Milwaukee’s industry has exited the city. Kaplan found error in this reasoning, though, pointing out that Chicago also has an industrial-based economy but has had a relatively stable poverty rate.

Some experts say regardless of whether the statistics are accurate or not, homelessness in Milwaukee is definitely a problem.

Sara Luke, communication coordinator for Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee, said the organization saw a 4.4 percent increase in the number of families utilizing the groups services last year.

However, according to Executive Director Sherrie Tussler, the increase is not out of the ordinary for Hunger Task Force. In 2001 the group had a 0.6 percent increase, and a 13 percent increase the year before.

Hunger Task Force offers both meal programs and a food pantry. It currently serves 85 meal programs throughout the city. Luke said they saw more working families come through.

Tussler and others say it is important for those more fortunate to get involved in alleviating poverty and homelessness in any way possible.

“Our economy is large enough to have our basic needs met,” Tussler said. “And if we live in a community where peoples’ basic needs aren’t being met, we should wonder why, and we should get involved.”

“There is so much need in our community right now,” said senior Angie Gius, president of Marquette’s Jesuit University Students Together in Concerned Empowerment. Gius said she hopes publicity on the statistics serves as a “motivating factor” to get people involved in community service.

“This issue is so relevant to us,” she said. “It’s not something students can ignore.”

Because Marquette is an urban campus, students have the opportunity to be first-hand witnesses to the effects of poverty and homelessness, said JUSTICE member junior Adrianna Locke. She said more people need to make an effort to improving conditions.

“It’s definitely a problem that’s being ignored by a lot of institutions, including Marquette,” Locke said. “I’ve seen Department of Public Safety officers escort homeless people off of campus. I just don’t think that’s the approach we should take.”

Statistics regarding Wisconsin’s food stamp program and the Wisconsin Works program seem to support an increase in the number of people in need.

The number of people on food stamps in Wisconsin has been steadily increasing during the past two years, said Richard Zynda, manager of the food stamp program at Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Family Services.

According to Zynda, there were 123,977 households in Wisconsin enrolled in the program as of July, up 80,000 since December 2002. In December 2001 there were 101,919 households enrolled in the program.

Statistics for Milwaukee County follow a similar trend. In July there were 57,270 Milwaukee County households in the food stamp program, Zynda said. The number of households in December 2002 in the program was 55,144 and in December 2001 there were 49,311 households in the program.

Zynda said the increase in households enrolled in the food stamp program is also due to reforms made at the federal level, allowing more people to qualify for the program.

The food stamp program was originally headed by the Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Social Services, which was later renamed Health and Family Services. In 1996, the same year the Wisconsin Works program was replaced by the AFDC program, the food stamp program was moved to the Department of Workforce Development.

The program was moved back to the Department of Health and Family Services in 2002 to be handled with the Medicaid program, since the majority of the food stamp caseloads were related to Medicaid, Zynda said.

“I think it has (been effective),” Zynda said. The program has seen more lower middle-class families, many of which did not qualify for the program previously, enroll as a result of the structural changes. “You’re seeing more people who need temporary help.”

There has also been an increase in the number of individuals in Milwaukee County on the Wisconsin Works program. The program is aimed at weaning people off of welfare by putting them to work.

As of July there were 8,539 W-2 cases in Milwaukee County, up from 7,855 cases in December 2002. The average number of cases in 2002 in Milwaukee County was 7,663.

The W-2 program has faced criticism in the past. Some say there are not enough jobs available for people in the first place.

“As to W-2 contributing to more people in poverty, that is not a conclusion that DWD would draw,” said Rose Lynch, director of communication for the Department of Workforce Development, which administers the program. “We are in a very tight labor market with a sluggish economy. There are fewer jobs with more people competing for those jobs and the southeastern part of the state has been particularly hard hit with a loss of jobs.

“The supports under W-2 have actually increased and provide a better support system for getting individuals on the road to self sufficiency,” she said. “More resources now go to child care and transportation, two of the most common barriers that individuals face in obtaining and keeping employment. The goal of W-2 is for people to get full time, wage sustaining jobs, and child care and transportation assistance help them to get there.”

Lynch believes an increase in minimum wage would help alleviate some poverty problems.

“One of the ways to decrease the number of families living in poverty is to increase the minimum wage, which Gov. Doyle instructed our department to start implementing,” Lynch said.

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