When Work is Not Enough

You may access this full report here. Please see the introduction from the authors below:

“In Wisconsin, almost 1 in 10 working families (8.1 percent) earn less than the official US poverty threshold (which is  24,036 for a family of four). These are very low levels of income. Indeed, the federal poverty threshold is so paltry that many families with income well above poverty are still struggling to meet basic expenses. More than a quarter of all Wisconsin working families (26.9 percent, totaling more than 163,000 families) make less than twice the official poverty threshold – which means that they live in very modest circumstances. All these families are devoted to work, but their jobs are characterized by low wages, volatile hours (both unpredictable and insufficient), and very shoddy benefits packages.

The fact that work is so often unable to sustain families is one reason that Wisconsin took a lead in the 1990s to create programs that support working families with very low income. Wisconsin Shares (child care subsidies),  FoodShare (food stamps), and BadgerCare (health insurance) are all part of the infrastructure established to support working families. As this paper will highlight, these programs have requirements that are unrealistic given the structure and instability of low-wage work, and the presumption punishes low-wage working people and their children. The central problems for these workers are both the quality of jobs (workers may be hired “full time” but get irregular and unpredictable hours) and the accessibility of jobs (workers may not have the transportation needed to get to work). If work supports require documentation of regular work, these critical support systems become inaccessible for the workers who need them the most.”