Wisconsin's Missing Rung

Report: Work-based policies critical to lifting people out of poverty

Evers administration reverses efforts aimed at helping federal aid recipients secure employment

CONTACT: Michael Jahr, Badger Institute senior vice president, at 262-442-5208 or at michael@badgerinstitute.org.

Angela Rachidi and Eloise Anderson discuss safety net programs and work in Wisconsin. Click to view here.

Work-based policies are the best tool for helping low-income Wisconsin families achieve self-reliance, according to a new Badger Institute report authored by Angela Rachidi, resident scholar in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “Wisconsin’s missing rung: Policies linked to work are critical to lifting people out of poverty” describes how the Badger State can better leverage three federal safety net programs to advance employment goals for low-income families.

The report’s findings come at a time when Gov. Tony Evers has reversed or defunded state efforts to support work through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs.

“Work provides income and a sense of purpose, which is why it should be central to Wisconsin’s anti-poverty efforts,” said Rachidi. “Wisconsin’s low-income families deserve more than a government handout. They need policies that help them find employment that puts them on a path toward economic security.”

As partners in administering federal safety net programs, states are given flexibility to establish policies that can support employment or education that will lead to employment. Rachidi, a Badger State resident and expert in the effects of federal safety net programs on low-income Americans, examined Wisconsin policies related to SNAP and TANF, two safety net programs that provide cash or in-kind assistance, as well as the state’s use of the earned income tax credit (EITC).

She concluded that the most effective way to provide opportunities to escape poverty “is to pair employment supports, such as the EITC and job training, with policies designed to make receipt of benefits contingent upon employment.”

Employment directly correlates with poverty rates. Statistics show that almost two-thirds of poor, working-age adults do not work at all in the year that they experience poverty while another 26% work part time or part year. Only 11% of those who are poor have full-time, year-round jobs.

Conversely, the likelihood of being poor when living in a household with at least one full-time working adult is extremely low. Among adults in Wisconsin who worked full time throughout 2017, only 2% were poor.

“We have to stop thinking of work as punitive when it comes to welfare programs,” said Mike Nichols, president of the Badger Institute. “It’s exactly the opposite. It’s an opportunity to build a better and fulfilling life, to have a purpose, to learn a skill, to feel the dignity that comes from helping one’s family and community. We know Wisconsinites are capable and hope our governor and other elected officials will give them the chance to prove themselves.”

In the report, Rachidi recommends that state policymakers return Wisconsin to a pro-work agenda by:

  • restoring funding for SNAP-related job training, which was passed by the state Legislature but vetoed by the governor in the 2019-2021 state budget
  • increasing the state EITC for families with one and two children
  • establishing a non-custodial parent EITC
  • improving the effectiveness of employment and training programs
  • creating better linkages between government and education and training institutions, and
  • reinstating work expectations for SNAP recipients and the 48-month time limit for Wisconsin Works (W-2) participants that was previously passed by the Legislature but reversed by Gov. Evers.

Rachidi and Eloise Anderson, former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and a Badger Institute visiting fellow, recently sat down together to discuss safety net programs and work in Wisconsin. Watch the video here.

Click here to read the full report.