Report: Wisconsin’s Billionaires Got $11.1B Richer During the Pandemic

   

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 9, 2021
Contact: Robert Kraig, [email protected], (414) 322-5324

Wisconsin Billionaires Got $11.1 Billion Richer Over First 10 Months of Pandemic, Their Collective Wealth Jumping By 28%

Gains of 8 Richest Residents Could Cover $2 Billion State Deficit Predicted by Outside Analysts 5 Times Over & Still Leave Billionaires Richer Than They Were Before COVID

 

Milwaukee, WI —The collective wealth of Wisconsin’s 8 billionaires jumped by $11.1 billion, or 28%, between mid-March of last year and January 29, 2021, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans. The $11.1 billion in pandemic profits of the state’s richest residents could cover five times over a two-year state budget deficit of up to $2 billion projected by an independent monitoring group, and still leave the billionaires wealthier than  they were when the pandemic hit 10 months ago.

Between March 18, 2020 —the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were put in place—and January 29, 2021, the total net worth of Wisconsin billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $50.5 billion, based on this analysis of Forbes data, and also shown in the table below.[1]

The private gain of Wisconsin billionaires contrasts sharply with the health and economic struggles that average Wisconsinites are facing because of the pandemic. Over those same tough 10 months, over half a millionWisconsinites fell ill with the coronavirus and over 6,000 died from it. And 1,170,172 workers lost jobs in the accompanying recession.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum projects that state spending will exceed revenue by nearly $400 million over the next two years, without taking into effect growing needs for existing services. When anticipated increases in funding for Medicaid, education and other services are considered, the group estimates the budget gap could exceed $2 billion.

While federal lawmakers debate more cash payments to people and families in the next relief package, the state’s 8 billionaires have amassed enough new wealth during the pandemic, a  $11.1 billion leap, to send every one of Wisconsin’s 5,822,434 residents a relief check of roughly $1,901 each. A family of four would get $7,603.

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
Jan. 29, 2021 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of wealth that day.

Nationwide over the same 10-month period, the total wealth of the nation’s 661 billionaires leaped by $1.2 trillion, or 40%—more than the $900 billion federal pandemic relief package enacted in Congress in December. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson was one of just six U.S. senators to vote against the bill, complaining that its relief checks for working families were too costly.

At $4.1 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 661 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans.

Sen. Johnson has also expressed reservations with President Biden’s new $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, again citing cost. Biden’s plan would provide $350 billion in general aid to state and local governments to preserve jobs and critical public services plus $170 billion to help schools reopen and support public colleges.

As Wisconsin billionaires ride out the crisis on a rising tide of wealth, the state’s working families struggle to keep their heads above water:

  • 107,132 state residents were collecting unemployment the week ended Jan. 9 [S. Department of Labor]
  • Between March and September 2020, 1,676 state businesses closed, 928 of them permanently. [YELP]
  • Late last year, 360,000 adult state residents, or 9%, reported going hungry over the past week. The figure for households with children was 12%. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, CBPP, Table 1]
  • 13% of the state’s tenants—158,000—were behind in their rent at the end of 2020. [CBPP, Table 3]

Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and to die from the disease. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

Here’s a sampling of some of the state’s prospering billionaires, all in the construction and home improvement industry:

  • Plumbing-fixtures scion Herbert Kohler, Jr., of the company and town that bear his family’s name, enjoyed a nearly 41% leap in his fortune, which rose by $2.4 billion to $8.3 billion.
  • The wealth of Eau Claire home improvement retailer John Menard, Jr., increased by almost a quarter, jumping $2.7 billion to $14.2 billion.
  • Afton building-supply wholesaler and big GOP donor Diane Hendricks experienced a 15% bump in her net worth, up over $1 billion to nearly $8 billion.

“As Wisconsin heads into our biennial budget process, the contrast is stark between the massive wealth growth of these billionaires and the projected State budget revenue shortfalls that endanger the State’s ability to fund essential services,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “No matter where we live or what we look like, all Wisconsinites deserve to live healthy and safe lives. We must stand together and demand that our elected leaders at the state and federal levels protect and invest in us, not the wealthy few who have already provided so greatly during this horrific pandemic.”

“Wisconsin’s seniors have borne a huge, devastating burden in this pandemic,” said Alex Brower, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans. “Older adults have lost their lives, been forced into isolation and loneliness, and lived in fear. Meanwhile, our state’s billionaires have profited massively. Wisconsin’s seniors deserve to live in a society that prioritizes older adults’ lives over the wealth of an elite few, starting with Congress passing real COVID relief legislation that addresses the needs of older Americans.”

“Billionaires have been reaping bushels of pandemic profits the last 10 months while many working families are reeling, state and local services are suffering and jobs are disappearing,” said Frank Clemente, Executive Director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress needs to come to the immediate rescue to get the country out of this mess. And then it should turn its attention to enacting sweeping reforms that make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of taxes so we can create an economy that works for all of us.”

“Republicans in the Senate keep trying to pare down the $1.9 trillion Biden pandemic relief plan that would save jobs and services in states and provide millions of people healthcare, unemployment protection, paid leave with excuses about targeting support to those who need it most,” said Margarida Jorge, Executive Director, Health Care for America Now. “But those excuses are more hollow than ever in a pandemic where billionaires are getting richer as everyone else struggles. The Republicans certainly weren’t worried about targeting the neediest when they passed their $1.9 trillion tax law back in 2017. That law gave away billions to the rich and corporations while leaving the middle class and working people behind.”

Some billionaires have seen a particularly astonishing increase in wealth:

  • Elon Musk’s wealth grew by over $156 billion, from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $181 billion on Jan. 29, a more than six-fold increase, boosted by his Tesla
  • Jeff Bezos’s wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $186 billion, an increase of 67%. Adding in his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott’s wealth of $57 billion on Jan. 29, the two had a combined wealth of almost a quarter of a trillion dollars thanks to their Amazon stock.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $97 billion, an increase of over two-thirds (77%) fueled by his Facebook

President Biden’s “build back better” tax and investment plans could address immediate needs created by the pandemic and put the nation on a trajectory toward economic growth that restores the middle class, good jobs, healthcare and equitable opportunity for everyone to prosper. Even Wall Street analysts praise the plan because of the jobs and growth it would create.

A key component is tax reform that would begin to ensure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. Biden’s tax plan would transform huge billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation by both raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes that allow the rich to delay, diminish and even avoid paying the taxes they owe on wealth increases. President Biden and the new Congress could make structural changes to level the playing field so that the rich are taxed more like the rest of us.

A number of approaches will be debated in Congress, including  an annual wealth tax on the biggest fortunes, proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Another option is the annual taxation of investment gains on stocks and other tradable assets, an idea advanced by the new Senate Finance Committee chair, Ron Wyden. Even under the current discounted tax rates for investment income, if Wyden’s plan had been in effect in 2020, Wisconsin billionaires would be paying billions of dollars in extra taxes this spring thanks to their gargantuan pandemic profits last year, helping to address the pandemic’s impact and keep the economy afloat.

[1]March 18 was also the date that Forbes picked to measure billionaire wealth for the 2020 edition of its annual billionaires report, which provided a baseline that ATF and IPS compare periodically with real-time data from the Forbes website. Politifact has favorably reviewed this methodology.

 

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Citizen Action Statement on Charging Decision in Shooting of Jacob Blake

Citizen Action Statement on Charging Decision in Shooting of Jacob Blake

For Immediate Release: January 6, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

Milwaukee: Late yesterday afternoon Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced his decision not to criminally charge the police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back this summer.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin stands in solidarity with Jacob Blake, his family and friends, hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country fighting for racial justice, and every person who loves humanity and is demanding real action to address America’s structurally racist criminal justice system.

As the Wisconsin Examiner reported: “Michael Graveley said his role was only to make a narrow legal decision over whether there was probable cause that the officers committed a crime.” Gravely and many legal analysts point out that it is extremely difficult to prove that a police officer in a shooting did not act in self defense, whether or not it’s true.

This means that the laws and legal precedents that have created the current self-defense standard have racist impact, as Black people continue to be shot and killed by law enforcement officers without legal consequences. This is a threat to the entire justice system, which cannot operate effectively when large segments of society justifiably do not have faith in its decisions.

Michelle Alexander’s penetratingly eloquent The New Jim Crow and Ibram X. Kendi’s brilliant pair of books Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist, call for every moral person to use their power to disrupt and unwind structural racism.

While DA Gravely may well be right that the case is unwinnable under current standards, this does not absolve him of moral responsibility. In the era of slavery and Jim Crow, heroic attorneys filed cases and DAs pressed charges that they knew would be shot down by a racist legal system. We should expect no less today.

Graveley’s decision also passes on responsibility to lawmakers, who have the power to create a legal system where black lives matter and everyone is truly equal under the law. But so far Wisconsin’s state leaders  have not proposed or pursued effective action up to the scale of the problem.

For Professor Kendi, one can’t meet his definition of antiracist without both recognizing the deep racism in our society and in each of us, and taking effective action to replace racist structures. For him the defining mark of antracism is effective deeds, not words or personal reflection. All those with substantial power such as our political leaders, corporate leaders, and at a lesser level of power nonprofit leaders, and every person with love in their hearts for all humanity must do more.

Citizen Action asks every elected leader, and every person within the sound of our voice with influence over these leaders, to take meaningful steps to unwind the structural racism that made the murder of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake possible. Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers are with Jacob Blake and his family.

Citizen Action Supports the Right of Wisconsin Voices workers to Organize

Citizen Action Supports the Right of Wisconsin Voices workers to Organize


For Immediate Release–December 23, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324.

Milwaukee: Over the past 6 weeks there has been controversy concerning an organizing drive by employees at Wisconsin Voices to form a union. Citizen Action of Wisconsin believes the right to form and join unions is a fundamental human right. Citizen Action is a union employer, and has had a staff union for over two decades

We sent the Wisconsin Voices Interim Director and board of directors a detailed letter on November 13th urging them to recognize the union. We have since remained in contact with the board and have repeatedly encouraged them either to grant immediate recognition or to agree to a swift card check recognition process.

Citizen Action has a long history of working closely with Wisconsin’s union movement, we were founded as a labor-community coalition, and have over 40 labor affiliates. We are equally committed to the network of civic engagement organizations that collaborate through Wisconsin Voices.

As a founding partner, we believe Wisconsin Voices is a critically important organization in the progressive ecosystem, and urge its leadership to work with the staff to recognize and implement their desire to form a union.

First, the right to form and join labor unions is a fundamental human right which is codified in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We believe that all progressive organizations should recognize and support the right of workers to form unions, not only in theory but in practice. This includes every Wisconsin progressive group, not only Wisconsin Voices. As the current federal process is rigged against workers, meaningfully supporting the fundamental right to form a union means immediate voluntary recognition.

Second, as an organization committed to racial equality, we believe Wisconsin Voices has a special obligation to embrace union rights. Unions played a vital role in the United States in creating an African American middle class. The withering attack by large corporations on union rights over the last forty years has taken a great toll on racial equity, dramatically reducing the availability of family sustaining jobs with benefits for Black and brown working class people. Milwaukee’s shocking racial disparities are in part a consequence of the flight of good union jobs from the North Side of Milwaukee, where most African Americans in Wisconsin live.

Third, in our experience, giving employees a union voice at work improves the organization, and leads to more collaborative decision making which reflects the views of all workers, not only the most effective internal advocates. At Citizen Action, we have had a staff union for over two decades. From the perspective of the current management of Citizen Action, the staff union relationship has been very positive and made us stronger. As unions are themselves democratic organizations, we have had challenges from time to time. The value of having a union is not that we always agree; it is that we have a structured way to work out our differences and move forward together. We firmly believe that sharing power with our organizers and staff members makes us a more unified and effective organization.

We urge the management of Wisconsin Voices to meet with your staff to voluntarily recognize the union they are requesting.

Statement: Trump’s Stacked Supreme Court Could Overturn ACA Coverage and Pre-Existing Condition Protections for Millions of Wisconsinites

For Immediate Release: November 10, 2020
Contacts: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

 

Statement: Trump’s Stacked Supreme Court Could Overturn ACA Coverage and Pre-Existing Condition Protections for Millions of Wisconsinites

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Urges Justices to Put Partisan Politics Aside and Uphold the Law

Milwaukee, WI – Statement in response to the Supreme Court’s hearing of the California v. Texas lawsuit to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act Citizen Action of Wisconsin released the following statement:  

“COVID cases are surging in Wisconsin to new levels, setting new records for infection and putting Wisconsinites’ lives at risk. During the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, we need more and better health care for all people, not less. And yet, during this global pandemic, the United States is taking up the Trump and Republican backed California v. Texas lawsuit that threatens to take health care away from millions of Americans.

Rather than protect and expand health care or lower drug prices, President Trump spent four years trying to repeal the ACA, weaken Medicaid and Medicare, and breaking his promises about lowering drug prices. In the last month before the election, his top priority was not COVID relief and recovery, but instead he focused on packing the Supreme Court with another right wing judge that opposes the ACA. 

In defiance of past precedence, the legal opinions of experts across the political spectrum who argue that this case has no merit, and the harmful impact of overturning coverage for over 20 million people as well as pre-existing condition protections for 135 million more, this court could refuse to uphold the ACA. That decision would have dire consequences for Wisconsinites. Experts estimate that 153,000 Wisconsinites could lose coverage, including 41,000 young adults on their parents’ coverage and 28,000 children. Furthermore, without the Affordable Care Act, between 883,000 and 2.4 million Wisconsinites with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage or be discriminated against and face much higher costs.

While millions of Americans would lose coverage and protections, the wealthy few and large corporations would receive massive tax breaks. Prescription drug corporations would receive a massive tax break from the repeal amounting to $2.8 billion annually and the richest households in Wisconsin would collectively receive $420 million in tax breaks.

For the sake of our democracy and our health, the Supreme Court must uphold the ACA as the law of the land and put aside partisan politics to act as a neutral arbiter in this case. The justices must prioritize sound legal judgement and the well-being of the nation over President Trump’s anti-health care legacy.” 

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Report: Wisconsin Billionaires’ Net Worths Jump $11 Billion or 28% Since Pandemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Oct. 22, 2020

Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

Wisconsin Billionaires’ Net Worths Jump $11 Billion or 28% – Five Times More than State’s $2 Billion Revenue Shortfall – Since Pandemic

Meanwhile state & local government services face deep cuts as Congress prioritizes confirmation of anti-ACA Supreme Court Justice over Coronavirus relief

MILWAUKEE, WI: Wisconsin has 8 billionaires whose collective wealth has jumped by $11 billion, or 27.9%, since mid-March, roughly the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the state’s economy was reeling from a huge spike in joblessness and a collapse in taxes collected, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans.

Despite growing needs and economic hardship caused by the pandemic, President Trump and U.S. Senate Republicans have refused to pass another financial aid package to help working families and to maintain state and local public services. Instead, they have opted to focus on expediting the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice before the election.

The $11 billion increase in wealth of the state’s billionaires over the last 7 months is five times more than the $2 billion state revenue shortfall in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The table below shows how the state’s billionaires’ wealth has climbed during the pandemic.

Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were put in place—and Oct. 13, the total net worth of the state’s  billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $50.4 billion, based on this analysis of Forbes data. Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the real-time data was collected Oct. 13 from the Forbes website.

Needless to say, ordinary workers did not fare as well. From mid-March to mid-September, the collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 3.5%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics national data.

While here in Wisconsin and nationally:

  • in Wisconsin 182,651 fell ill with the virus, including 1,681 who died from it (as of 10/21/2020) [Wisconsin Department of Health Services]
  • In Wisconsin, 931,641 lost their jobs between March 21 and Sept. 26, 2020 [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • In Wisconsin, 119,104 were collecting unemployment on Sept. 26, 2020 [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • In Wisconsin, 928 businesses closed [MSN Money]
  • Nationally, 22 million adults reported not having enough food in the past week between September 2-28, including 14 million with children in the household. Eight percent of adults and 11% of adults living with children reported not having enough to eat. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, CBPP]
  • Nationally, 1 in 6 renters reported being behind on September rent payments, including 12% of Wisconsin renters. [CBPP]

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
Oct. 13, 2020 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of wealth that day.

Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and to die from the disease. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

The total net worth of the nation’s 644 billionaires has risen by $931 billion, or nearly 32%, since March 18—from $2.95 trillion to $3.88 trillion (see spreadsheet of all billionaires).

“The wealth of the country’s nearly 650 billionaires keeps rising higher and higher, as the livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans keeps sinking lower from the failure of Washington to provide a new COVID-19 rescue package,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had put his energy into rushing through Congress a major coronavirus financial aid package months ago, like he’s rushing through this Supreme Court nomination, millions of Americans would have been spared financial hardship and countless small businesses would still be standing.”

“The rich are getting richer while the rest of the nation is struggling to overcome the health and economic impacts of the worst public health crisis we’ve seen in decades,” said Margarida Jorge, Executive Director of Health Care for America Now. “Yet rather than pass COVID relief and other legislation that would increase income, health care access and other basic supports for struggling families and small businesses, President Trump and Republicans in Congress are prioritizing their partisan grudge against the Affordable Care Act. A vote to pack the court with Trump’s anti-ACA Supreme Court nominee before the election equals a vote to take healthcare and pre-existing conditions protections away from millions after it.”

“Federal lawmakers should be prioritizing the COVID relief policies that increase access and affordability of health care, especially now as the disease surges in our state putting more Wisconsin families at risk,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Yet time and time again, we’ve seen President Trump and the Republicans in the Senate put their politics ahead our health care whether it comes to COVID relief, lowering drug prices, or protecting coverage and pre-existing conditions protections for millions who depend on the Affordable Care Act.”

Some billionaires have seen a particularly astonishing increase in wealth:

  • Jeff Bezos’s wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $203 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 80%.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $101 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of  85%.
  • Elon Musk’s wealth grew from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $92.8 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 277%.

The total wealth of all U.S. billionaires—$3.88 trillion today—is two-and-a-half times the $1.5 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, or 165 million Americans.

The $931 billion wealth gain by billionaires since mid-March:

Without a federal fiscal relief package, workers will face even greater loss of jobs and services than has already occurred. The Economic Policy Institute predicts that in Wisconsin 99,200 public-sector jobs employing teachers, public safety workers and health care workers, will be lost by the end of 2021 without more federal aid.

Even as the number of people without jobs and healthcare continues to rise, President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell continue to reject meaningful relief, opting instead to prioritize rushing the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent death.

The rushed confirmation of Barrett, a judge who is on the record opposing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), increases the likelihood that millions will lose healthcare and consumer protections for pre-existing conditions after the November elections, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear California v. Texas, the Trump-backed lawsuit to overturn the ACA.

Supreme Court repeal of the ACA could take health coverage away from 224,000 people in Wisconsin, according to the Center for American Progress. It could also eliminate protections for 883,000 with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or alcohol or drug addiction, who could be denied coverage without the law, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s 25% of the state’s non-elderly population. At the same time that millions would lose coverage and protections, repealing the ACA would heap more wealth onto rich households and prescription drug corporations that already comprise the most profitable industry in the nation.

Repealing the ACA would give wealthy households making at least $3 million a year a $198,000 annual tax break, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Households making $1 million a year would get a $42,000 tax break. Prescription drug corporations would receive an additional $2.8 billion annually in tax breaks while seniors would face higher drug costs because of the roll back of ACA provisions that closed the Medicare Part D coverage gap.

The ACA has saved more than 11.8 million Medicare beneficiaries over $26.8 billion on prescription drugs – an average of $2,272 per beneficiary, between 2010 and 2016, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In Wisconsin, 86,264 seniors each saved an average of $1,129 in just one year thanks to the ACA (2016 is the most recent year available). Currently, the price of prescription drugs is rising faster than any other medical good or service.

“President Trump has promised over and over again to lower drug prices for seniors, but instead has offered lip service, half-measures and gimmicks like discount cards that are paid for by weakening the Medicare Trust Fund,” said Alex Brower, Executive Director of the Wisconsin

Alliance for Retired Americans. “Trump isn’t fooling anyone and now, as COVID is raging and lives are at stake, it’s time for him to stop playing politics and pass long overdue COVID relief and policies that would finally stop drug corporations from price-gouging us on everything from insulin to high blood pressure medicines.”

 

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Everyone with Love in their Hearts Must Do More to Interrupt Systemic Racism

Everyone with Love in their Hearts Must Do More to Interrupt Systemic Racism

For Immediate Release: August 27, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

Milwaukee: Citizen Action of Wisconsin Executive Director Robert Kraig released the following statement on the arrest of the white supremacist militia member who murdered two Black Lives Matter protesters and injured a third in Kenosha, and law enforcement’s apparent lax response to him before and after he shot his victims. See Citizen Action’s statement Monday here.

As a white and gay man, I am struggling like many of you to figure out what I can best do to support our African American friends and neighbors in this horrific moment. I did not make a new statement yesterday because I am trying, as many of you are, to gather my thoughts and listen to the people of color leaders within Citizen Action, my network, and in the media. In the eloquent statements and actions of so many Black Americans, from Marquette alum Doc Rivers, the professional sports strike begun by our own Milwaukee Bucks, Jacob Blake’s parents, scholars such as Princeton’s Eddie Glaude, and so many across the land, they are pleading for all of us to do more. If we are not Black Americans we can never fully understand the depths of their feelings, but we can listen with an open heart and act on their moral appeals.

I believe that each and every person with love in their hearts must look into their souls and decide what they can do to immediately interrupt and begin to unwind systemic racism. If we are being honest with ourselves, most of us, myself included, are not doing enough. Merely sympathizing or signalling that you are on the right side is inadequate. Merely voting for the better candidates is not enough. The scary thing is that despite the progress against overt Jim Crow racism since the 1960s, we seem to be reliving the same pattern of events which led to its re-imposition by other means. The depressing pattern is all too familiar:

  • A Black man is assaulted with deadly official force in a situation that no reasonable person believes a white man would have been, a pattern that is over 400 years old.
  • Community members and allies rise up using the most sacred American right of free speech to demand justice and immediate action to end the structural racism which devalues and dehumanizes all African Americans.
  • When there is not a timely and satisfactory response from official authorities (timeliness is defined by the harmed community, not others), and property destruction takes place, attention is shifted to property damage and white fears, and away from the true victims of on-going dehumanization and oppression, and the act of official violence that perpetrated the chain of events.
  • Often evidence emerges that members of law enforcement took a lax approach to white people committing violence. In Kenosha, in shocking contrast to the immediate use of deadly force against Jacob Blake, there is compelling evidence that law enforcement allowed right wing militia to roam the streets, interacted with the white nationalist who murdered two Black Lives protesters, including the murder before he committed his crimes, and let him flee the scene even as onlookers pointed him out, and he walked towards a police vehicle with his hands up. There is also evidence of some white community leaders  enabling the entrance of right-wing vigilantes with apparent impunity.
  • The politicians that use strategic racism to advance themselves turn attention away from the true victims, and toward the destruction of property, using dog whistle racist appeals such as “looters,” “thugs,” and “rioters” seeking to tarnish the entire largely peaceful liberation movement. They turn attention away from the true victims of racism, and the official violence which sparked the protests in the first place, and to white fears and the traditional racist privileging of property over human life. The evidence is overwhelming that a super majority of the violence now and for the past 30 years comes from far right-wing extremists like the man who murdered two peaceful protesters, but you would never know it listening to the media and our elected officials. The lie that the threat of violence comes from liberation movements and Black and brown people is perpetrated by self-interested politicians, their elite backers, and abetted by media of all kinds.
  • Politicians who sympathize with the Black community and count on it for their elections empathize with the victims, their communities, and the liberation movement, but out of fear or political calculation also start to focus attention on property and further militarize the situation in ways that intimidate and endanger the directly impacted community and peaceful protesters. They counsel patience and obedience to process, and offer half measures that do not even begin to get at the fundamental reasons Black life is so devalued in a country we call the land of the free.

Taking real and appropriate action is hard in real time, it is only easy from the safety of history. It is too painless now to signal support for Black Americans today by identifying with liberation movements and their heroic leaders of the past. But the truth is that the bloody march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge or the 6th Street Viaduct, the Mason-Dixon line of Milwaukee in the 1960s, would not have been necessary if all people of conscience had stepped forward to make the hard and costly decisions required of them. Martin Luther King made an eloquent statement on this theme in his justly famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

The ugly truth is that the people just like us in the past did not act because there were costs. Elected leaders could lose votes, organizational leaders could risk their positions, corporate leaders fear a lose of customers or standing with their peers, and average people worry about offending friends, neighbors, and family members, or losing privileges. It is cost free to stand with MLK and John Lewis now, it is not so to really and truly stand with Blacks Lives Matter.

While empathy and individual efforts to increase racial consciousness are useful enterprises, a much deeper and more challenging level of commitment is called for by the leaders of modern Black liberation. In fact, far too many corporations and elected officials are embracing opposition to structural racism and giving symbolic support to Black Lives Matter and yet at the same time draining these terms of their actual content, as if saying the words or putting them on a sign or a website is enough. The same has been done to Martin Luther King, who fought and died for true economic equality, not merely the technical right to vote or a mythical “colorblind” society that has never existed. For the real MLK, people with vastly unequal economic means could never have the power to be truly free. One of the reasons white people are not slaughtered on suburban streets by their own police is both race and the economic power they have to fight back.

The most compelling African American thought leaders I have read on the subject, Michelle Alexander’s penetratingly eloquent The New Jim Crow and Ibram X. Kendi’s brilliant pair of books Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist, call for every moral person to use their power to disrupt and unwind structural racism. For Kendi, you can’t meet his definition of antiracist without both recognizing the deep racism in our society and in each of us, and taking effective action to replace racist structures. For him the defining mark of antracism is effective deeds, not words or personal reflection. A perfect example of this is the professional athletes who have gone beyond words to withdraw their labor until meaningful action is taken. They have used their power to disrupt the system and create a crisis of conscience. The same is called for from all those with substantial power such as our political leaders, corporate leaders, and at a lesser level of power nonprofit leaders such as myself and every person with love in their hearts for all humanity.

There are some immediate policy actions in our Monday statement, but consider these more of a rough draft than all that needs to be done to create a true antiracist America.

 

Chart Graph: Almost All Organized Violence is from Right-Wing Groups

(Source: //www.csis.org/analysis/escalating-terrorism-problem-united-states)

 

 

 

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Statement on the Racist Police Shooting of Jacob Blake


For Immediate Release: August 24, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

Milwaukee: Citizen Action of Wisconsin stands in solidarity with the family and friends of Jacob Blake, tens of thousands of protesters across the country fighting for racial justice and every person who loves humanity, in demanding that the officers involved in his shooting be brought to justice and meaningful actions against structural racism are immediately taken at the state, local and national levels.

We very much need the officer who shot Jacob Blake, and other officers who stood by and watched, to be prosecuted quickly. Before we can even begin to heal, justice must be brought to the police officers involved in this racist shooting and anyone else who tries to cover it up.

But the healing cannot stop there, because what happened to Jacob Blake, and all the other victims of publicly sanctioned racist violence, is ultimately caused not by a few bad apples, but the structural racism that is at the very core of the American criminal justice and policing system. The system of mass incarceration grew out of the backlash against the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and has made the U.S, the most incarcerated and over-policed country in the history of the free world. Only a massive shift in resources away from the publicly funded oppression of Black people, poor people, and all communities of color can begin to reverse structural racism. Ultimately structural racism cannot be addressed unless we deal with the unequal political power communities of color have in American society as a direct result of economic marginalization and inequality.

There is much that needs to be done in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s racial inequality is among the worst in the nation, including the highest disparity in incarceration rates between African American men and whites. In July 2020, a new report from the UWM Center on Economic Development ranks Milwaukee as the worst major city in the country for African American wellness, which includes a series of 30 health and economic measures.

While we commend Governor Tony Evers for calling a special session of the Legislature and proposing some interim steps towards police reform, we urge the Governor to go further in addressing the root causes of structural racism and biased policing. We would like to see the Governor introduce his own major package of reforms up to the scale of the problem, including:

  • Take meaningful steps to end the system of mass incarceration and biased policing, and instead invest in harm reduction, restorative justice, and both mental and physical health and other social supports which reduce the role of police in our communities. This should include the Wisconsin African American Civic Engagement Roundtable’s proposals to shift resources away from police and towards healthy communities and public health.
  • Follow up on the campaign commitment you made in 2018 by supporting WISDOM /EXPO’s goal of ending mass incarceration, and take meaningful steps to reduce the incarceration rate by half by 2022 and create alternatives to prison for offenders.
  • End police impunity for racial violence by eliminating qualified immunity, creating an independent prosecution section in the Department of Justice, so that conflicts of interest between local DAs and police do not stand in the way of justice, and the elimination of special rights for police not also held by all other public employees.
  • Require that police who patrol Black and Brown communities also to live in those specific communities, to create a real stake for those charged with protecting public safety. If you are unwilling to live in the communities you police, you should not carry live and death powers over their residents.

“First, let me send peace and blessing to Jacob Blake and his family. No one should have to go through what y’all did yesterday. I hope justice will be done,” said Rafael Smith, Climate and Equity Director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Unfortunately, what happened in Kenosha is as American as apple pie. The killing of Black and Brown people by the state and it’s racist vigilantes has been a permanent feature of our democracy. It is in our national DNA. As a proud Black man, I am tired of all the talk and demand real, substantial policies that will lead to the free abolishment of these racist systems.”

“Our words are no longer enough. Our actions and deeds are how history will judge us in this moment,” said JoAnna Bautch, Movement Politics Director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Be sure you can say you did all you could to make sure this never happens again.”

“It is hard for us to believe that anyone other than a police officer would be able to avoid immediate arrest when such damning video evidence of a crime is available,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Jacob Blake should be with his family today, not fighting for his life in an intensive care unit, and prosecuting officers for his shooting is the start, not to the attainment of justice.”

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Loss of Federal Unemployment Stimulus Will Devastate Wisconsin Working Families, lead to over 65,000 additional jobs losses

For Immediate Release– July 24, 2020
Contacts: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, [email protected]
Kevin Kane (414) 550 8280, [email protected]

New Report: Loss of Federal Unemployment Stimulus Will Devastate Wisconsin Working Families, lead to over 65,000 additional jobs losses

Report finds every metropolitan area to see substantial job loss as families lose funds.

STATEWIDE: On a media webinar today Citizen Action of Wisconsin was joined by State Senator La Tonya Johnson to release a new report showing the economic consequences of a failure of Congress to extend the $600-per-week benefit for out-of-work and partially working Wisconsinites. Without a renewal by Congress and the President, the benefits will expire on Saturday in Wisconsin. Republicans in Washington remain gridlocked, and will not make a counter proposal to House Democrats (who passed an unemployment extension in May) until next week at the earliest.

 A video recording of the news conference is available here.

The report breaks down the economic impact of cutting the $600-per-week federal funding stimulus for major Wisconsin metropolitan areas. Over 200,000 Wisconsin unemployed workers and underemployed workers participating in Work-Share programs will lose more than half of their family incomes. Taking this money out of the pockets of working families across Wisconsin will have a cascading impact on local economies, cutting demand for groceries, auto repairs, and other basic services, damaging already struggling businesses and forcing additional layoffs. It will also force many to go without enough food and other basics, and spark an unprecedented wave of evictions and foreclosures.

Key Findings

  • For workers, the drop in the $600 enhanced UI stimulus weekly will result in an over 60% drop in weekly earnings for those out-of-work. (Figure 1)
  • Statewide, Wisconsin could expect to see a loss of 65,635 jobs over the rest of the year by a drop in consumer demand from the ending of the $600-per-week federal support to out-of-work Wisconsinites. (Figure 2)
  • At current levels of unemployment, $3.1 billion in federal funds will be taken out of the pockets of working people and local Wisconsin economies from August through December. An extension through the end of the year is included in the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives in May but stalled by the U.S, Senate and the President. (Figure 2)
  • Because metropolitan areas often cover large regions, county level unemployment figures alone do not fully capture the impact. The 3 metropolitan areas most impacted are Greater Milwaukee (20,458 jobs at risk), Greater Madison (6,842 jobs at risk) and Greater Green Bay (3,238 jobs at risk).
  • As covered in Figure 3, every county in Wisconsin would be impacted, hurting rural and urban Wisconsin alike as dollars are not spent consumer-to-business then business-to-business.

Figure 1: Percent of Income Reduction from Drop in UI Benefits

Impact by Worker Characteristics Weekly Benefit Currently Weekly Benefit Without Stimulus Reduction in Earnings
Full-time worker who normally earns $20/hour or more* $970 $370 61% reduction in spending potential
Worker who normally earns $10/hour, 30 hours a week $756 $156 79% reduction in spending potential
Worker on a “Work-Share” plan, hours reduced 50% to 20 per week, $20/hour $1,185 $585 50% reduction in spending potential

* – Unemployment insurance amount is based on the quarterly earnings, a combination of hours and hourly wage. Data gathered from Department of Workforce Development’s Weekly Benefit Rate Calculator. UI weekly benefits are capped in Wisconsin at $370 per week at most.

Figure 2: Statewide and Metropolitan Economic Impact of Not Extending the $600/Week Unemployment Stimulus Until the End of 2020

Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) Jobs at Risk Federal $ Taken from Wisconsin Working Families
STATEWIDE 65,635 jobs $3.1 billion not coming to families
Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI MSA (covering Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington & Ozaukee counties) 20,458 $975.1 million
Madison, WI MSA (covering Dane, Iowa, Columbia & Green counties) 6,842 $326 million
Green Bay MSA (covering Brown, Oconto & Kewaunee counties) 3,238 $154.3 million
Appleton, WI MSA (covering Outagamie & Calumet counties) 2,344 $111.7 million
Racine, WI MSA 2,204 $105 million
Janesville-Beloit, WI MSA 1,873 $87.2 million
Wausau-Weston, WI MSA 1,490 $71 million
Oshkosh-Neenah, WI MSA 1,644 $78.3 million
Eau Claire, WI MSA (covering Eau Claire & Chippewa  counties) 1,583 $75.4 million
La Crosse, WI-MN MSA 1,160 $55.2 million
Sheboygan, WI MSA 1,030 $49 million
Fond du Lac, WI MSA 874 $41.6 million

* – Source: US Census designation of Metropolitan Statistical Areas

** – Methodology: Using the state-level calculation of job loss from the Economic Policy Institute, we estimate the local impact through adjusting for the proportion of unemployed Wisconsin workers eligible for the $600-per-week benefit by multi-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). MSA’s are preferred as they better capture the flow of money between adjacent communities and local economies.

*** – Based on DWD UI Week 26 estimate of weekly claim recipients by county, grouped by MSA, multiplied the number of weeks remaining in 2020 and by $600 per week. Figures may be low, as they do not count residents waiting for unemployment determinations and UI funds.

 

Figure 3:Number of Residents Unemployed by County, as of DWD Week 26, and Estimate of Jobs at Risk Per County from End of $600 Unemployment Stimulus.

County Estimated Job Loss from Conclusion of $600/week* Weekly unemployment claims as of DWD UI Week 26**
Adams 109 jobs at risk 375 people unemployed
Ashland 197 681
Barron 337 1,164
Bayfield 121 419
Brown 2,821 9,744
Buffalo 75 260
Burnett 99 341
Calumet 558 1,929
Chippewa 550 1,901
Clark 221 762
Columbia 711 2,456
Crawford 131 453
Dane 5,604 19,354
Dodge 778 2,687
Door 259 894
Douglas 276 954
Dunn 345 1,190
Eau Claire 1,033 3,567
Florence 12 43
Fond du Lac 874 3,020
Forest 140 485
Grant 359 1,240
Green 257 889
Green Lake 152 524
Iowa 270 931
Iron 53 184
Jackson 285 984
Jefferson 710 2,453
Juneau 301 1,039
Kenosha 1,498 5,174
Kewaunee 134 462
La Crosse 1,160 4,007
Lafayette 107 368
Langlade 161 557
Lincoln 269 930
Manitowoc 899 3,106
Marathon 1,490 5,146
Marinette 362 1,250
Marquette 141 488
Menominee 87 301
Milwaukee 14,475 49,994
Monroe 336 1,161
Oconto 283 979
Oneida 309 1,066
Outagamie 1,786 6,167
Ozaukee 829 2,862
Pepin 40 137
Pierce 236 816
Polk 305 1,055
Portage 708 2,445
Price 109 377
Racine 2,204 7,613
Richland 126 435
Rock 1,873 6,468
Rusk 95 328
Sauk 890 3,075
Sawyer 150 519
Shawano 362 1,250
Sheboygan 1,030 3,556
St. Croix 576 1,989
Taylor 113 391
Trempealeau 272 940
Not allocated to a specific county*** 5,419 18,718
Vernon 197 681
Vilas 133 458
Walworth 774 2,675
Washburn 147 506
Washington 1,296 4,477
Waukesha 3,859 13,328
Waupaca 392 1,355
Waushara 194 670
Winnebago 1,644 5,677
Wood 526 1,817

* – Methodology: Using the state-level calculation of job loss from the Economic Policy Institute, we estimate the local impact through adjusting for the proportion of unemployed Wisconsin workers eligible for the $600-per-week benefit by county. While county level spill-overs no doubt occur (money is not only spent in the county one lives in) we assume spillovers occur in both directions between counties. 

** – Source: Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Initial and Weekly Claims Filed, UI Week 26

*** – DWD statistics do not account for the county of origin for all UI recipients. 

Figure 4: Wisconsin UI Weekly Benefit Rate Compared to Other States, National Average

Data source: CNBC story, 7.17.2020, link

“It is absolutely stunning that in the middle of a pandemic-induced depression, conservatives in Washington are forcing the cut-off of the unemployment payments that keep millions of working families afloat,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The important data in this release document the needless economic pain that will be inflicted on Wisconsin working families in every corner of the state, and the additional working families. The data also document the cascading impact this cut-off of support will have on tens of thousands of additional working families who will also lose their jobs as a consequence. With enhanced unemployment payments ending next week in Wisconsin, and Republican in Washington in gridlock, the State Legislature must come back into immediate emergency session. This is a time for leadership, and it is time for conservative politicians at the federal and state level to start doing their jobs,” Kraig concluded.

“For many families the extra 600 federal unemployment benefits means the difference between financial security during a time when they are struggling due to no fault of their own, and the risk of losing their home”, said State Senator La Tonya Johnson. “We need our leaders at both the state and federal level to take immediate steps to support Wisconsin families, including removing red tape that makes it difficult to successfully navigate the UI system and maintaining the $600 federal lifeline that families-and our economy- depends on.”

Web Link to News Release

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Citizen Action of Wisconsin Applauds La Crosse County Board Approval of Resolution Supporting Universal Healthcare

For Immediate Release: July 16, 2020
Contact: Ben Wilson, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, [email protected]

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Applauds La Crosse County Board Approval of Resolution Supporting Universal Healthcare

La Crosse County Joins Over 70 Community Resolutions in Demanding Guaranteed Health Care for All

La Crosse, Wis. – Citizen Action of Wisconsin and La Crosse County residents today applauds the County Board of Supervisors for approving a resolution calling on Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Representative Ron Kind to work toward the immediate implementation of universal health care.  Current legislation for universal health includes the Medicare for All Act of 2019, H.R. 1384 / S. 1129.

The resolution is one of more than a dozen that have been passed in 2020. The effort is being organized by numerous local, state, and national organizations and elected officials, including Citizens Action of Wisconsin, the Coulee DSA, Public Citizen, and Our Wisconsin Revolution.

“This pandemic should especially open our eyes and spotlight the systemic inequities at the root of our healthcare system that wrongly treats health care as a privilege rather than a human right,” said 4th District Supervisor Freedland.

County Board Chairperson and Citizen Action of Wisconsin member Monica Kruse stated, “Our voices will join those of the many other counties across Wisconsin and throughout the nation demanding a more equitable, more efficient and more inclusive healthcare system.”

“Single payer, publicly funded, national healthcare insurance is the most economical and most equitable way to achieve full healthcare services for all people,” agrees Citizen Action of Wisconsin Driftless Co-op member Mark Neumann.

The Medicare for All Act of 2019 would guarantee comprehensive health care coverage for all Americans and would eliminate co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs that are keeping needed health care out of reach for residents of La Crosse County.

Information about Medicare-for-All and the growing demand for Congress to pass Medicare-for-All can be found at medicare4allresolutions.org and medicare4all.org.

 

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Senator Baldwin & Citizen Action Call for Bold COVID-19 Economic Relief

Senator Baldwin & Citizen Action Call for Bold COVID-19 Economic Relief

Baldwin legislation would extend unemployment and work-share before July deadline, create New Deal-style publicly subsidized jobs program, begin climate transition, improving racial equity, and revitalizing rural areas

Statewide: In a virtual town hall meeting this morning over 160 Citizen Action leaders and members heard a full report from U.S. Senator Baldwin on the need to maintain and further extend economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch Tammy Baldwin’s entire 30 minute presentation and Q&A session here. Milwaukee small business owner Ryan Clancy also joined the call to discuss the urgent need for further economic relief.

The COVID-19 induced economic crisis requires an urgent and large scale federal response. The duration of the pandemic, which is growing in Wisconsin and most of the country, and the persistent depression-like economic repercussions it is producing, could not have been fully anticipated in March when the last large scale relief passage was enacted. In addition, most of the minimal relief targeted to middle class and working people is set to expire July 25, including the enhanced unemployment benefits keeping tens of millions of working families afloat.

Tammy Baldwin’s Jobs for Economic Recovery Act would create a national subsidized jobs program to create hundreds of thousands of frontline jobs reminiscent of the Community Conservation Corps from the New Deal. The Rebuilding Main Street Act extends the $600/week unemployment stimulus payments to those out of work and applies the increased benefit to work-share programs, which subsidize workers for wages lost as a result of a company-wide reduction in hours. These two bills would prevent layoffs and put jobseekers back to work. Senator Baldwin is working with a coalition of Senators pushing for the inclusion of these provisions in the next COVID-19 relief package, expected to be considered this month.

In Citizen Action’s view, a large scale publicly-subsidized jobs program would also be an opportunity to initiative the green transition we need to prevent a climate genocide, and to employ people in the most depressed areas and constituencies, including people of color and folks who live in depressed rural regions.

“The ongoing public health and economic crisis in Wisconsin demands real solutions from Washington. We have to prevent further layoffs in our communities and put Wisconsinites back to work, so I’ve introduced legislation to do both,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m proud to have strong partners like Citizen Action Wisconsin in this effort as we work together to support workers and businesses in our recovery from this economic crisis. Our reforms present a better way forward and we must seize it now.”

“In this great national emergency, the American people deserve and expect bold leadership up to the scale of the crisis,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “As working and middle class families confront employment conditions not seen in this country since the 1930s, they need both the continuation of the temporary economic relief enacted in March, and bold new investments in job creation that can only come from the federal government. We commend Senator Tammy Baldwin for stepping up with powerful policy proposals on the scale of the original New Deal. Her proposals, for which she is building support with a diverse coalition of Senators, are of the magnitude needed to address the current economic crisis, and lay the groundwork for a new economy needed to prevent a climate cataclysm, and extend opportunity to all those who have been shut out, especially people of color and the residents of depresses rural areas.”

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