THE DAILY DYSFUNCTION: All the news that's hissy-fit to print | WisCommunity

THE DAILY DYSFUNCTION: All the news that's hissy-fit to print

Sadly, it's time for another edition of our not-really-daily news roundup, reporting evil and stupid dysfunction in Wisconsin government and politics. Almost every day, new reports roll in of politicians and governments ignoring or making worse the problems affecting the great majority of the citizenry. And every week, politicians make dumb, self-serving and misleading  statements in defense of their sometimes willful ineptitude. Here are the latest reports that meet our dysfunction standard:

WISCONSIN'S WAGE DISASTER: A full 25 percent of Wisconsin workers -- roughly 700,000 -- earned less than a living wage in 2013, according to a report released Thursday by the Madison-based Center on Wisconsin Strategy and the Economic Policy Institute. [Full report at link below]

That's right: According to the latest study, ONE IN FOUR Wisconsin workers were earning less than a living wage. From an open window in Scott Walker's Capitol office, I think I just heard a "Woohoo!"

The two think tanks said a crisis of poverty-wage work exists across Wisconsin, where one of every four workers in the state earns less than $11.36 per hour. That's the wage required for a full-time worker to keep a family of four out of poverty. Wisconsin's minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, so depending on family size and work hours, some people certainly are even worse off.

"Wisconsin’s workers are playing by the rules, yet many are stuck in poverty-wage jobs paying a wage insufficient to lift even a full-time, year-round worker to the poverty line for a family of four with two children," said the report. The median age of an impoverished worker in Wisconsin is 30 years.

The study can be viewed as refuting claims by the Walker administration that it needn't raise the state's $7.25 minimum wage because -- according to Walker bureaucrats -- that current minimum wage meets a state law requiring that it provide a living wage. Just keep repeating that and maybe someone will believe it.

The report's findings suggest the state could raise the minimum wage by several dollars and yet not appreciably reduce the number of workers still mired in poverty. Nevertheless, Team Walker insists everything is fine, or will be fine, just as soon as Walker's jobs-creation "strategy" not only actually creates enough jobs for everyone, but also jobs that pay a great deal more per hour. Don't hold your breath, though, because we're already nearly four years into the Walker jobs prescription and so far nothing much has changed. Our bait-and-switch dys-governor says that latter goal is his special focus, so he won't be pushing for a hike in the lagging minimum wage, which has less buying power today than it did decades ago.

The report notes that while some polticians (including Walker) argue that increasing the minimum wage is bad for business, "the 13 states that raised the minimum wage at the beginning of 2014 experienced subsequent job growth equal to or better than states that did not."  From the report, other key facts:

• Three fourths of Wisconsin’s poverty wage workers are white. But African American and Hispanic workers are much more likely to hold poverty wage jobs. While one-quarter of white workers earn poverty wages, 38 percent of black, and 42 percent of Hispanic workers do.

• Three times as many poverty-wage workers have no health insurance as other workers – 22% of poverty-wage workers had no health insurance in 2013. Walker turned down 100% federal subsidies to increase the pool of low-income Wisconsin workers on BadgerCare.

• Hours can be as problematic as wages. Poverty-wage work is often formally or functionally part-time. Just-in-time scheduling, where an employer gives little or no warning of scheduled work times, is an increasing norm. In many service sector jobs, bad weather, bad traffic, or just too few customers can send workers home mid-shift.

The EPI said its Family Budget Calculator contains budget thresholds for specific regions of Wisconsin, as well an estimate for the remaining rural areas. Averaging across the state, a one-adult, one-child family in Wisconsin would need annual income of $49,011 to meet the family budget threshold. That equates to an hourly wage of $23.56 for a full-time, year-round worker. The average two-adult, two-child family would need $71,914 in annual income to be above the family budget threshold. That equates to an hourly wage of $17.29 per hour for each parent.

P.S.: A separate study shows that a Wisconsin worker making the current $7.25 minimum wage would need to work 79 hours to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment. But not to worry. That's why we have homeless shelters. [See link to national study, below.]

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? State Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), speaker of the Assembly, is promising to disband the independent Government Accountability Board -- created in a bipartisan vote after the legislative caucus scandals more than a decade ago. Vos is ticked because the retired judges making up the board approved the independent John Doe investigation into campaign finance irregularities that has drawn in Scott Walker and a handful of legislative Republicans. Yet, rather than mention the judges, who make agency policy, Vos continues attacking Kevin Kennedy, the GAB's administrative director. Maybe Vos thinks that, with a last name like that, Kennedy must be a Democrat. Vos and his pals apparently intend to create an elections board constituted through partisan appointments. That'll ensure election integrity, don't you think? Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Or, they studied history and not-so-secretly prefer the bad old days.

RYAN'S HOPE: Rep. Paul Ryan, the Janesville Republican, has a new TV ad up in his congressional race, and it's very low road: What, according to Ryan's ad, is the pressing issue facing America? Climate change? ISIS? wealth inequity? Disease? Nope, it's ... the IRS! Because taxes! An entire ad spot aimed at the government's easiest and most time-honored target, yet an ad which says basically nothing, except for a sidelong and misleading allusion to the GOP's imaginary accusations that the IRS targeted conservative nonprofits for political reasons. Nobody likes paying taxes, especially rich folks, so if you're a politician like Ryan who's got nothing of substance to share, non-substantively attack the IRS. It's a sure bet!

KILLING THEM SOFTLY WITH VOTER ID: A nonpartisan congressional study released Wednesday concluded that in sampled states where Republicans rammed through tough voter-ID laws, the steepest drops in election turnout so far have been among black and younger voters -- documenting the view of the Democratic Party that such laws don't curb vote fraud but are designed (as some Republicans have inadvertently said aloud) to curb Democratic voters. The report was released by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. As of this fall's election, Republicans have passed voter-ID laws in Wisconsin and 32 other states, with courts deciding on both sides of the issue in some of them.


October 10, 2014 - 10:48am