By Ariele Vaccaro
On Wednesday, a Wisconsin lawmaker, a home care worker, an economist, and a community organizer came together to discuss a report that finds Wisconsin working, minority families almost three times as likely to be low-income as white working families. In a conference call, State Representative David Bowen, Laura Dresser of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), Jennifer Epps-Addison of Wisconsin Jobs Now (WJN), and Robert Reed, a long-time Wisconsin resident and home care worker cited the problems and offered solutions to economic racial disparity in their state.
The report, published recently by the Working Poor Families Project (WPFP) cites racial disparity among poor families, or families that make less than twice the poverty line.
The report titled “Low- Income Working Families: The Racial/Ethnic Divide” includes data on all states in the U.S.
Epps-Addison told the story of the “tale of two Wisconsins,” one of which she finds benefits white working families, and one that looks out for minority working families.
The community-organizer believes that policy built on corporate interest in combination with poor Wisconsin job creation – 40th out of 50 states in 2014 – leaves minority working families at a disadvantage.
“This is not the way to move forward as a state,” said Epps-Addison.
Laura Dresser is Associate Director at COWS and labor economist.
During the conference call, she laid out the statistics.
First, she highlighted an important figure: 200 percent of the poverty line. It varies family to family, based on how many members.
For most families, this number can pay the bills. In Wisconsin, 22 percent of white working families make less than double the poverty line. 72 percent of Latino working families lies under that 200 percent mark. And 64 percent of African American working families work for less than twice the poverty line. “That’s the kind of disparity we’re talking about,” said Dresser. According to Rep. Bowen, a number of shifts need to take place to increase income for minority working families and close the racial-economic gap.
Contrary to Walker’s newest biennial budget which proposes cuts to rural health programs and certain Medicaid programming, Bowen would like to see more funding for health care. Cuts to Wisconsin Foodshare or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have affected some 255,000 poor families. Bowen emphasized increases in public assistance like energy assistance and Foodshare. In addition, he calls for more need-based financial aid for students, minimum wage increase, and more earned income tax credits (EITC) for working families to “stop the erosion of the middle class.”
Lifelong Milwaukee resident and home care employee Robert Reed has been homeless but working since last year. He’s been receiving Foodshare benefits for the past three years.
He spoke at the conference and expressed disappointment in having to turn to public assistance while being employed.
“It’s been very embarrassing,” said Reed.
Reed is also part of Homecare Fight for $15, a campaign aimed at increasing home care workers’ wages to $15 per hour.
“The hardest part of my job is getting paid a decent wage,” Reed said.
WPFP is a national organization that publishes reports on access to education, economic policy, development, and training with regards to low-income households.