by Lois M. Quinn, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute, May 2000.
This report uses administrative and institutional databases to develop annual measures of the economic well-being of Milwaukee County children and summarizes data on financial supports provided children in employed families. The study provides a model for cities seeking to assess changes in family income and economic support during the national conversion to a work-based welfare system. [The Year 2000 report on the Economic Status of Milwaukee County Children is also available.]
Moving Beyond Census Data
Cities have traditionally relied upon decennial census data to describe the economic well-being of children and families in their community. Recent controversies over U.S. census questions and response rates have highlighted some of the limitations of the federal census as the primary tool for public planning and policymaking. Since the 1990s the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute has been analyzing institutional and administrative databases to develop more accurate and current information on Milwaukee nneighborhoods. Several databases were compared to the 1990 census to gauge the accuracy of federal census data for planning purposes. The Institute comparisons found notable differences in the data.
Limitations of detailed census data (to be released 1-3 years after its collection) have led to increased interest in annual assessments of family and neighborhood well-being based on other public records. This report summarizes data on the economic well-being of Milwaukee County children.
Findings on the Economic Status of Children in Milwaukee County
Nearly Half of Employed Single Parents Are "Working Poor"
To assess the economic security of employed Milwaukee County families, the Employment and Training Institute examined data on tax returns filed with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue by families with children. Income earnings include "adjusted gross income" but not government payments to families. Federal poverty guidelines were used to estimate numbers of "working poor" families.
Over 59,000 Children Are in Employed Families with Earnings Below Poverty
State Department of Revenue data showed that many employed families did not earn enough to adequately support their children.
|Family Size||Poverty Guidelines||185% of Poverty|
|each additional member||+$2,800||+$5,180|
Each year the federal government estimates the minimum income families
need to live above the poverty line. While criticized as unrealistically low, these guidelines
provide a measure for estimating numbers of families in need. |
Fewer Families Claiming Tax Credits for Working Families |
The State of Wisconsin and the federal government offer refundable Earned Income Tax Credits to supplement the earnings of low-income employed families with children.
Estimated claim rates for Milwaukee County income tax filers with dependents and adjusted
70,300 Fewer Milwaukee County Children Receive Income Support
During the 1990s Wisconsin changed its AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) program into W-2 (Wisconsin Works), which requires all parents of children over twelve weeks of age to find employment or participate in work activities. Income support, when provided, is subject to time limits. After that time all parents (except those caring for relatives or with SSI disabilities) are expected to support their families without income supplements. As fewer families receive income payments, access to other economic "safety nets" (including the state and federal earned income tax credits, CARES child care support payments, food stamps, medical assistance/BadgerCare) becomes increasingly important. Analysis of public assistance trends is based on data from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and Department of Health and Family Services.
Over 15,000 Children Receive Child Care Support
The State of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County have worked together to increase the number of families receiving support for child care. Employed parents with earnings less than 165% of poverty and meeting the "W-2" asset standard are eligible for support, which can continue until the family reaches 200% of poverty. Parent options for care include licensed day care centers, licensed family day care homes, and certified family care.
1.7% Increase in Children Receiving Food Stamps, Many Unserved
After several years of large declines in the numbers of children served, in 1999 the State increased its outreach programs to inform Milwaukee County families of the availability of food stamps benefits. The number of children helped still remains lower than in the period before the "Pay for Performance" welfare policies were initiated.
Two Percent Increase in Children with State Medical Coverage
Wisconsin has three medical insurance programs available to children in low-income households. Medicaid (MA) is available for families who meet the eligibility qualifications which were in place for AFDC in July 1996. Healthy Start includes coverage for pregnant women and children under age 6 in families with income up to 185% of the federal poverty level and for children ages 6 through 14 in households with income up to 100% of the poverty level, and has no asset limit. The state's new BadgerCare program is designed to provide health care coverage for uninsured children and parents who do not qualify for MA or Healthy Start but who have income below 185% of the poverty level. (Once enrolled, families can maintain coverage with income up to 200% of poverty with monthly premium requirements increasing with the family's income.)
This report was prepared with funding assistance from the Helen Bader Foundation and Start Smart Milwaukee. The neighborhood indicators reports include analysis of families in poverty and worker benefit usage in each of nine central city zipcode areas.
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