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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

MKE still struggling with high poverty rate

The United States Census Bureau released a report last week stating the national poverty rate increased and the median household income decreased nationwide in 2010.

Nationally, 15.1 percent of people are living at a level considered by the government to be at or below the poverty rate. For some perspective, a person under 65 years old would be considered impoverished if he or she earned less than $11,344 in a year, according to the bureau.

The median income decreased 2.3 percent to $49,445.

In total, 46.3 million people lived in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 and the highest poverty rate since 1993.

“What you don’t see is what’s behind the numbers,” said David Riemer, director of the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute. The group is a non-partisan organization dedicated to reducing poverty in Milwaukee.

Impoverished people in Milwaukee have been especially distressed in the current economic climate, he said, particularly because of the lack of work opportunities for the poor.

Riemer said he has seen firsthand individuals and families struggling to pay rent, mortgages, buy food or even books for children, as public resources meant to help those most in need have been exhausted.

The most recent poverty rate released for Milwaukee was in Dec. 2010, which reported 20.9 percent of the population of Milwaukee County was living in poverty in 2009.

This number, according to Dave Celata, manager of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Social Development Commission, has likely grown since the 2009 report. The Social Development Commission is another Milwaukee group aimed at combating poverty and aiding those in need.

“(The increased numbers) are not a surprise to us anymore,” Celata said. “Unfortunately we’ve had a consistent growth in our client base (for the past few years).”

Celata said one identifier for the growth of poverty in Milwaukee this year is the number of applicants to the Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program, which helps low income individuals pay utility bills.

In 2007 there were roughly 35,000 people who received aid through the program, he said. This past winter season, the program aided nearly 50,000 people—a 15,000 person increase.

He also said a real tragedy of the economic situation was an increasing number of families seeking assistance, and that thousands more are approaching the end of governmental benefits such as food stamps, unemployment and W-2 programs.

John Davis, professor of economics, said the falling median household income has an especially damaging effect on the lower-middle and lower classes. He said the amount of money they have most likely lost is disproportionate with the rest of the country.

While Davis, Celata and Riemer all agree there are complex factors with the increasing poverty and lowering median income, Celata and Riemer emphasized temporary or transitional jobs as a first step toward a solution.

Riemer said jobs must be created, suggesting the city hire a labor force to beautify the landscape. He also said he believes the Wisconsin minimum wage should be raised from $7.25 to $8.

Davis said another potential solution would come if the U.S. dollar went down in value.

“If the dollar goes down, U.S. goods and exports become cheaper for people in other countries so they demand more goods from us and less goods from other countries,” he wrote in an email.

He also said imports become more expensive for the U.S. when the dollar goes down, so it buys less from others and more from its own firms.

“Higher exports and lower imports means more jobs for us, which lowers unemployment,” Davis said.

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