The Institute for Research on Poverty at UW–Madison and the Morgridge Center for Public Service formed a partnership in 2012 to help raise awareness of social issues and encourage community involvement among undergraduate students. The partnership also aims to prepare student volunteers for their service in socioeconomically diverse communities.
Student interns create fact sheets that translate complex poverty research into information easy to understand for undergraduate students. Interns also works to share poverty research findings with the campus community.
This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.
Wisconsin Poverty 101
Officially, Wisconsin’s poverty rate is 10.8%, while the child poverty rate is 11.8%. Gain a broad perspective on poverty in the state, including statistics on unemployment and reduced-cost school lunches.
“Wisconsin Poverty 101 Updated” prepared by intern Helen Powling and released in September 2016 draws from the Wisconsin Poverty Report by Timothy Smeeding and Katherine Thornton to explore the latest descriptive statistics on disadvantage in the state. Information is presented using the official poverty measure, Supplemental Poverty Measure, and the relatively new Wisconsin Poverty Measure, and researchers’ perspectives on the significance of the differences among these three measures is explored.
Family Complexity and Poverty
Since 1960, the percentage of births that occur outside of marriage has risen from 5% to over 40%. How does the changing complexity of families in America relate to poverty and what challenges do families today face?
“Family Complexity and Poverty,” released in April 2013, was prepared by intern Rebekah Ludwig with guidance from IRP editor Deborah Johnson, relying on the research of IRP affiliates and other researchers. Sources include “Family Structure, Childbearing, and Parental Employment: Implications for the Level and Trend in Poverty,” in IRP’s Focus newsletter 26(2); and the introduction to the edited volume entitled Social Class and Changing Families in an Unequal America, by Marcia Carlson and Paula England. Special thanks go to IRP affiliate Professor Marcia Carlson for her guidance in preparing this fact sheet.
Poor and in Poor Health
Healthcare is a critical topic in America today. Research shows that there are direct links between being poor and increased health problems. But learn why access to care is not the only answer to the problem.
“Poor and in Poor Health,” released in November 2013, was prepared by intern Dan Simon with guidance from IRP editor Deborah Johnson, relying on research by IRP affiliates and other sources. Especially helpful were IRP affiliate and Professor Stephanie Robert’s slide presentation for Badger Volunteers, “Social Policy is Health Policy: The Importance of Non-Medical Determinants of Health”; and “Poverty and Poor Health: Can Health Care Reform Narrow the Rich-Poor Gap?” Focus 28(2), IRP affiliate and former director Professor Barbara Wolfe, and The Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities, edited by Barbara Wolfe, William Evans, and Teresa E. Seeman. Special thanks go to Professor Wolfe for her review of this fact sheet and helpful suggestions.
Young Dads and Disadvantage
About 72% of men in America with a high school degree or less are fathers by age 30. But in 2008, only 20% of low-educated men had a regular full-time job. Learn more about the factors that make being a young father in America difficult and how public policy can help.
“Young Dads and Disadvantage,” released in February 2014, was prepared by intern Dan Simon with guidance from IRP editor Deborah Johnson, relying on research by IRP affiliates and other sources. Especially helpful were Lawrence Berger’s 2012 IRP webinar “Disadvantaged Men as Fathers”; “Young Disadvantaged Men: Fathers, Families, Poverty, Policy: An Introduction to the Issues” in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 635, by Timothy Smeeding, Irwin Garfinkel, and Ronald Mincy; and “The Life Circumstances of African American Fathers with Children on W-2: An Ethnographic Inquiry” Focus 22(2) by IRP affiliate David J. Pate Jr. Special thanks to Lawrence Berger for reviewing this fact sheet and providing helpful suggestions.
Food Insecurity and Food Assistance Programs
In 2012, nearly 15% of all Americans lacked the resources to buy adequate food. This number is about 11% in Wisconsin. Where in Wisconsin is hunger highest, and how does the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) impact hunger in the country?
“Food Insecurity and Food Assistance Programs,” released in July 2014, was prepared by intern Dan Simon with extensive content review from Professor Judith Bartfeld, IRP affiliate and director of the IRP RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research, and guidance from IRP editor Deborah Johnson. Sources include data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Especially helpful was the UW-Madison and UW-Extension Wisconsin Food Security Project, developed by Bartfeld and colleagues in order to provide local information on food access and the food security infrastructure in Wisconsin.
Is the American Dream Still Attainable?
From 1974-75, the bottom 20% of earners in the United States saw income growth of 90%. But from 1975-2010, the bottom 20% saw growth of just 3.7%. Meanwhile the top 1 percent of earners saw growth of 95% between 2009-2012. Learn more about America’s Lower-Middle Class and the future of the American Dream.
“Is the American Dream Still Attainable?”, released in September 2014, prepared by intern Dan Simon with guidance from IRP editor Deborah Johnson, explores recent research findings about income and wealth inequality in the United States and promising policy remedies. Special thanks go to Professor Timothy Smeeding, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and former IRP director, for extensive guidance and content review.
Life Beyond Bars
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, holding over 2.3 million Americans behind bars. Though these high rates are somewhat recent, with incarceration numbers tripling since 1980. But beyond the bars are the families of those incarcerated. What are the material, social and emotional tolls on the children and families of the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans?
“Life Beyond Bars: Children with an Incarcerated Parent,” prepared by intern Neil Damron and released in November 2014, examines the latest research findings concerning the effects of a parent’s incarceration on children. The fact sheet draws from a variety of sources, including an IRP webinar featuring UW–Madison IRP faculty affiliates Michael Massoglia (Sociology) and Julie Poehlmann-Tynan (Human Development and Family Studies), and Poehlmann-Tynan’s recent edited volume with co-editor Mark Eddy, Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners. Special thanks go to Professor Poehlmann-Tynan for feedback and review.
Brain Drain: A Child’s Brain on Poverty
Living in poverty can put children at risk for health and behavioral problems, but could disadvantage actually affect brain development? Emerging evidence suggests that living in poverty may indeed alter how the brain grows, which may have implications for a child’s life chances through adulthood. What’s causing these developmental blocks and how can they be countered?
“Brain Drain: A Child’s Brain on Poverty” released in March 2015, was prepared by intern Neil Damron with extensive content review from the Institute for Research on Poverty. For a full list of sources and further reading, please refer to the final page of the fact sheet.
No Place to Call Home: Child & Youth Homelessness in the US
In 2013, over 1.2 million children in the United States were identified as homeless. In Wisconsin, the figure was 18,000. Research shows that homeless youth face barriers to education and are more likely to experience heath issues. So what has been done to solve this problem up until now and what are research-informed policy options for the future?
“No Place to Call Home: Child & Youth Homelessness in the US” released in May 2015, was prepared by intern Neil Damron with extensive content review from the Institute for Research on Poverty. For a full list of sources and further reading, please refer to the final page of the fact sheet.
Which Families are Poor and Why?
Americans at the top of the income distribution are getting richer, while wages among the rest of the population are either stagnant or falling. But poverty rates differ a lot by family type– including which and how many parents are actively involved in the family. Education and work are also important factors.
“Which Families Are Poor and Why?” released in September 2016 explores the evidence and suggestions for improving opportunity and reducing poverty among struggling families. It draws heavily from a recent report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)/Brookings Working Group on Poverty and Opportunity, a working group of top poverty experts from across the political spectrum, which highlights differences in three major factors—education, work and wages, and family—which are associated with whether families are poor.
Financial Barriers to College Completion
Since 1980, the cost of college attendance has risen by 160% at four-year public universities and 170% at four-year private institutions. And as the cost has risen, the share of federal and state support has decreased, leaving students and families to make up the difference. What are some of the specific issues caused by this shift, and what are some potential policy solutions?
“Financial Barriers to College Completion” was prepared by intern Jake Roble and released in March 2017. Special thanks to the faculty, researchers and sources that contributed to this report.
Falling Further Behind: Inequality in College Completion
College completion is one of the surest pathways out of poverty, but not everyone that sets foot on campus graduates. Since 1980, gaps in rates of college entry, persistence, and completion between children from low- and high-income families have widened, although women are outpacing men in college attainment in every demographic group.
“Falling Further Behind: Inequality in College Completion,” released in September 2017, was prepared by intern Jacob Roble. The sheet explores recent research into differential rates of college completion by socioeconomic status (SES), including variation in graduation rates between high- and low-SES students, the factors researchers think are behind them, and key aspects of promising efforts to help level the playing field and increase college completion among disadvantaged students.
When many Americans think of poverty, decaying urban areas and neglected rural pockets come to mind. However, in the last 20 years, the geography of American poverty has shifted, with an increasing number of America’s poor people now living in suburbs.
“Suburban Poverty,” released in February 2018, was prepared by intern Will Maher. The sheet examines the significant growth in U.S. suburban poverty in recent decades and looks at characteristics of the suburban poor, the safety net response to suburban poverty, and concerns related to suburban poverty in the coming years.
Pay-to-Stay Jail Fees in Wisconsin
Being incarcerated can be expensive. Besides the loss of income from work, inmates may be responsible for “pay-to-stay” fees when they are in jail. Pay-to-stay fees are charges assessed to incarcerated individuals and may include fees for booking, daily room and board, work release, physicals, medication, hospital visits, and dental visits.
“Pay-to-Stay Jail Fees in Wisconsin,” released in October 2018, was prepared by intern Will Maher. The factsheet discusses the use of “pay-to-stay” fees in Wisconsin county jails. These types of fees may include fees for booking, daily room and board, work release, physicals, medication, hospital visits, and dental visits. The evidence in the factsheet suggests that the use of these fees may place a disproportionate burden on low-income inmates and defendants.
Unstable Jobs, Unstable Lives: Low-Wage Work in the United States
Working hard is seen as fundamental to securing a stable life and achieving the American Dream. However, many Americans struggle to make ends meet despite their hard work. This fact sheet explores the instability associated with low-wage jobs, which often have unreliable and untraditional hours. Volatile work schedules are tied to unpredictable monthly incomes, difficulty meeting life obligations, and adverse health outcomes. Workers earning low wages are eligible for several safety net programs designed to help them make ends meet, but the unsteady nature of many low-wage jobs can complicate eligibility for these programs.
“Unstable Jobs, Unstable Lives: Low-Wage Work in the United States,” released December 2018, was prepared by Anna Walther. This fact sheet explores the volatility of low-wage jobs in the United States, focusing on inconsistent work schedules, unpredictable monthly income, the ways in which instability can affect workers’ overall well-being, and how irregular schedules can complicate eligibility for some safety net programs.
Wisconsin’s Opioid Crisis
Like the rest of the United States, Wisconsin has experienced a rapid rise in opioid-related deaths. While death rates due to other major causes have fallen in the last 10 years, opioid deaths have skyrocketed and now kill more Wisconsinites than car crashes. For many, this crisis has meant losing a child, sibling, parent, or friend, but the state as a whole has seen significant social costs due to the opioid crisis. These include increased mortality rates, hospitalizations related to overdoses, and increases in child welfare cases.
“Wisconsin’s Opioid Crisis,” released April 2019, was prepared by Will Maher. The fact sheet discusses Wisconsin’s growing opioid problem, including its geographic distribution, how synthetic and prescription opioids have exacerbated the crisis, and examples of the social costs of opiate addiction in the state.
Rental Housing Affordability In Dane County
Dane County supports a strong local economy and consistently ranks as one of the nation’s top places to live. Between 2009 and 2017, the county added 24,000 households, a growth of around 12 percent. For much of this period household growth outpaced new construction, which has led to historically low rental vacancy rates. Over the last four years, these rates have hovered around 3 percent in the county, lower than the national norm of 4 to 7 percent. In a tight market like this, competition increases for scarce units, landlords use more stringent screening processes, and rents go up, sometimes forcing out existing tenants.
“Rental Housing Affordability in Dane County,” released May 2019, was prepared by Will Maher. The fact sheet examines the relatively high rental housing costs in Dane County (Wisconsin) and the challenges this creates for many lower- to middle-income residents of the county.
Declining Returns to Low-Wage Work in Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a hard-working state: each age, race, and education demographic works more hours on average than their national counterparts. While Wisconsin’s economy improved in the years following the Great Recession, this economic growth is just now translating into increased well-being for many low-wage workers and their families. Wage growth has been slow for jobs near the bottom of the income distribution and is only just beginning to return to the levels of the early 2000s. Meanwhile, government safety net programs may have been scaled back before low-income workers’ wages could catch up.
“Declining Returns to Low-Wage Work in Wisconsin,” released September 2019, was prepared by Anna Walther. The fact sheet examines how low-wages may be a factor in contributing to poverty and fewer returns to work for residents in Wisconsin.