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State's 'safety net' worked during recession, says researcher

UW-Madison researchers said poverty in Wisconsin actually went down in the final year of the Great Recession, even though the Census Bureau said poverty went up.

The difference is that the Census Bureau does not consider government programs, like BadgerCare and food stamps that poor people use.

When you add those in, the Wisconsin Poverty Project at the UW says the state's actual poverty rate fell in 2009 and 2010 from 11.1% to 10.3%.

The Census Bureau said Wisconsin's poverty rate was 13% during that time, but that only considered cash income.

Tim Smeeding, who heads the UW Institute for Research on Poverty, said his study showed that the safety net for poor people worked during the recession. He said Wisconsin did a good job protecting folks at the bottom of the economic ladder, and that is something Wisconsinites should be proud of.

The new report said only three counties -- Milwaukee, Eau Claire and Chippewa --had higher poverty rates than the state average.

Counties in southwest, southern and eastern Wisconsin had lower than average poverty.

Smeeding said the federal and state earned income tax credits and the Food Share program were especially helpful to the poor. But the study's authors noted that middle class Wisconsinites were hit hard by falling home values and the losses of jobs and income.