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Report: Wisconsin Income Inequality at Near Record Level

One recommendation from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Budget Project to reduce income inequality in Wisconsin is to raise the minimum wage. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)
One recommendation from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Budget Project to reduce income inequality in Wisconsin is to raise the minimum wage. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)
August 14, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – There is a vast gap between the incomes of the highest earners in Wisconsin and the incomes of typical Wisconsin residents, according to a new report from the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and the Wisconsin Budget Project.

In the Badger State, the top 1 percent of earners had income of $933,000 a year or higher, which is 19 times the average annual income of $48,000 that the remaining 99 percent of residents made.

Jon Peacock, the Wisconsin Budget Project’s research director, says that's a huge imbalance.

"The very high percentage of the economic growth that has occurred over the last 45 years in Wisconsin: that's gone to the top 1 percent,” he states. “They're getting almost three-fifths of the income growth that has occurred during that period of time."

The report says income inequality in Wisconsin is now back to the high levels posted just before the Great Depression in the late 1920s.

According to the authors of the report, this widening gap between the highest earners and everyone else in Wisconsin poses a hardship for the state's families, businesses and communities. All Wisconsinites pay the price if too many families and businesses fail to prosper.

Peacock says while incomes in general have been increasing, the rising tide has not lifted all boats.

"It's really held back a lot of low-income and middle income people,” he states. “And it hasn't always been that way, which is why we're optimistic that some changes in policy could result in more equitable distribution of income growth in Wisconsin."

The report makes several suggestions to mitigate the problem. Among them are working to build the skills and education of the state's workforce, having a strong child care system, and raising the minimum wage, which has been frozen in Wisconsin for nearly a decade.

"And we need to remove barriers to work that are holding people back – things like driver's license suspensions for things that have nothing to do with driving,” Peacock stresses. “We also need to protect the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicaid in Wisconsin."

The report also suggests making state taxes more equitable across income groups, saying that people with high incomes should pay at least as much taxes relative to income as people with lower incomes do.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI