Income inequality is on the rise, both nationally and locally. While Wisconsin’s income gap is lower than the national average, recent changes in tax laws may only deepen the growing divide.
"It's sort of like there's an escalator going up, and all the states are going up. Wisconsin is in the middle of the escalator," says Tamarine Cornelius, an analyst for the Wisconsin Budget Project, which analyzed the levels of income inequality throughout the state in a recent report. "There are some states that are higher up on the escalator and there's some states that are lower on the escalator, but we're all heading up in terms of this trend towards greater income inequality."
This trend isn't exactly new, Cornelius notes. It started in the 1970's, with a larger distribution of money going to the top earners as other wages remained stagnate. When the recession came, people of all incomes were hit. But in the years since then, almost all income gains have gone straight to the top earners.
"Since the recession, the incomes in Wisconsin of the top 1% have gone up about 12%, while the incomes of everybody else have gone up only about 5%," she says. "So 1/3 of all of the economic gains in Wisconsin since the recession have gone into the pockets of the top 1%."
The Wisconsin Budget Project has offered possible solutions to bridging the gap, but Cornelius notes, "there's no one single cause, and there's no one single solution." The group suggests removing some barriers to work, and ending a focus on tax cuts that significantly deplete public funds. Cornelius says she believes investing in healthcare and education will be beneficial to all Wisconsinites in the long run.
"There's a link between job growth and the investments we make in our public structures," she says. "We can't fund those investments properly if we are focusing solely on cutting taxes and not giving enough attention to these improvements that we need to make in Wisconsin to continue to make sure that Wisconsin is a good place to live, do business, and raise families."