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Eau Claire, Chippewa counties among worst in state for poverty

Chippewa Valley (WQOW) – Eau Claire County and parts of Chippewa County have the second and third highest poverty rates in the entire state, right below Milwaukee which sits at the top.

In Wisconsin, the state poverty rate is a little above 10%. Only Eau Claire, Chippewa and Milwaukee counties top that level.

Milwaukee comes in at 17% and Eau Claire and southern Chippewa County, which are ranked together, come in around 14%

So, you may be thinking a higher poverty rate in a big city like Milwaukee makes sense, but how did our area end up on the list?

The ALICE Report, which is conducted by United Ways across Wisconsin gives every county a percentage on top of the federal level.

It takes the national poverty criteria and adds a percentage of how many people are unable to make ends meet.

“We’re looking at housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, some technology, so a smartphone is included in this basic budget. Oftentimes, because it’s a requirement for certain positions, and taxes are included. Then there’s a miscellaneous that’s a 10% overrun of the overall budget,” said Jan Porath, executive director of the United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley.

While 14% of Eau Claire County residents may be at or below the federal poverty line, that is not including the 28% that are above that level but still unable to afford basic essentials.

The ALICE Report shows a whopping 42% of the two counties’ populations are struggling to fund their day-to-day expenses.

“This budget does not include any extras,” Porath said. “It doesn’t include a savings plan, it doesn’t include any entertainment. It is really bare bones.”

For a one-person household in Eau Claire County, they need to make around $19,000 a year just to meet the bare minimum essentials. For a family of four, they need to make a little above $62,000.

This is a problem because, for one person working a minimum-wage job in Eau Claire County, they will only make around $14,000 a year.

The bigger problem? Porath said finding the sole reason behind the increase is easier said than done.

“It is complex and we want to get more people involved in the conversation to get more data, more information that can help make more informed decisions,” Porath said.

Porath said the last time Eau Claire and Chippewa counties were ranked higher than the state average was in 2012.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 27 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have a poverty rate below the state average by a “significant amount.” In our area, those counties include Dunn, St. Croix, Pierce, Pepin, Buffalo, Trempealeau and Jackson counties.

McKenna Alexander

McKenna Alexander is the weekend anchor and a multimedia journalist for News 18. She started in June 2019. She was born in San Francisco, but spent the majority of her life growing up in Dallas.

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