La Crosse Co.’s poverty rate climbs above state average

La Crosse and Milwaukee county were above the state's average poverty rate in 2013, the most recent numbers available

One in six people in La Crosse county lives in poverty, according to a new report from the Institute of Research on Poverty at University of Wisconsin.

The UW report used a number of factors including earnings, tax credits and food stamps to determine Wisconsin’s Poverty Rate. Of the 13 counties that were looked at only La Crosse and Milwaukee county were above the state’s average poverty rate in 2013, the most recent numbers available.

Pam Shultz works as a volunteer for the Salvation Army in La Crosse. She takes pride in helping people in need.

“It’s sad there are so many stories as to why people come to the Salvation Army for help,” Shultz said.

Shultz has a special connection to the shelter because she’s spent time there herself.

“I went to basically regroup take a breather and get going again,” Shultz said.

While Shultz’s experience was tough it isn’t uncommon in La Crosse.

“This is a very unfortunate level of homelessness and we have not seen a decrease in what was an escalated level of need as a result of the recession,” said Grace Jones, executive director for Couleecap.

According to the UW reports, a little more than 10 percent of the state was poor in 2013. That number climbs to 18.2 percent in Milwaukee and 17.6 percent in La Crosse.

“This is a long-term trend. Milwaukee has always ranked first. La Crosse has always ranked second,” Jones said.

That’s because of a few key reasons.

“Despite the fact that there may be more jobs, a lot of these jobs are part-time at lower pay rates, so the economic recovery that has occurred so far has not has much of an impact on poverty rates,” Jones said.

And La Crosse’s housing market has worsened the situation.

“A decent two-bedroom apartment can easily be $600, $650, and if you making minimum wage or a low wage, at a job with no benefits it is very difficult,” Jones said.

So how do we fix the situation? Experts said the solution is getting more people to work and continuing to support helpful resources.

“I’ve seen people get jobs while staying here, I’ve seen people get housing, and I think it’s a good program,” Shultz said.

Even though the report used data from 2013, local officials said things haven’t changed much since then.However, one of the biggest improvements is the child poverty rate. At its height it was about 17 percent in La Crosse County and that has dropped to about 13 percent.