Opportunity Wisconsin and 9to5 Wisconsin hosted a group of middle-class working parents from all across Wisconsin on April 29 for a virtual roundtable, to discuss the challenges they are facing during the coronavirus pandemic and how the Trump administration’s economic policies have not worked for their families or communities.

“It’s 24/7. You have a 4-year-old yelling at you, and you can’t take a break. You can’t take them to a grandparent’s or relative’s. It’s a weird way to live right now,” said Jyllian Grady, a single mom and service industry worker from Eau Claire. “I have to pay for rent and daycare, but unemployment and the stimulus payment does not cover a whole month and I have no income. I don’t want to lose the spot for my son’s daycare, but I have so many other things that I have to pay for and I can’t cover all of it.”

Trump has prioritized the interests of the rich and powerful while in office. His tax cuts for the rich and corporations increased inequality and undermined broad-based prosperity. His Wall-Street friendly rules have encouraged corporations to take on destabilizing debt. And he’s refused to invest in public protections like health care and disease prevention. Now we’re seeing the results.

“I’ve now had seven family members, including my sister, who have had COVID-19. You think it’s okay, but every time the phone rings you just hope it’s not someone else who died,” said Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a professor and Eau Claire resident.

Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act championed by President Trump and his allies, 1 in 4 Wisconsinites will ultimately see a tax increase. By 2027, Wisconsinites with the lowest incomes are expected to pay more in taxes because of the 2017 tax law, while the wealthiest 1 percent of residents will receive nearly $8,000 in savings.

“People are one paycheck away from not having anything. We knew this was going to happen. This isn’t a shocker to anybody who works in health care. Nobody listened to us. As a health care worker the most frustrating thing is that nobody is listening to us,” said Sara Thielen, RN, of Eau Claire.

Wages have been stagnant in Wisconsin for decades — adjusted for inflation, the median wage in Wisconsin has only risen 73 cents since 1979. Instead of giving hard-working Wisconsinites a boost, President Trump blocked a federal minimum wage increase, a move that denied more than 800,000 Badger State residents a pay increase and resulted in $3 billion in lost wages.

“The minimum wage really hasn’t changed in a long time. When we look at how people have been prepared, most people aren’t because they’re living paycheck to paycheck. Unless trickle-down economics have worked for you, you don’t have a massive savings account to be able to sustain when things like this happen,” said Kim Cronk, RN, Eau Claire County Board Supervisor, and single mom. “When we see these massive corporations that are giving this (Paycheck Protection Program) money back – the money wasn’t meant for them in the first place.”

Many of these same workers are now facing sky-high debts and are being forced to decide between daily necessities like food and medicine just to survive. In 2017, 22 percent of Wisconsin residents stopped taking the prescription drugs they need because the costs were too high.

“Most people are just trying to play catch up and are still not caught up. If they reopen the country before it is ready and the economy is already crashing, I can see more alcoholism, crime, and suicide – and mom and pop places are closing and they cant rebound,” said Nancy Yarbrough, a nonprofit executive in Milwaukee.

In the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis, President Trump slashed the safety net and tightened food stamp requirements, putting 700,000 people at risk of losing food support. He has proposed massive cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, making it harder for Wisconsin’s poor and elderly to get necessary health care.

“It’s the small businesses that are really providing most of the jobs. It feels like a system that is just created to mess with people. It doesn’t listen to the people and it gives money to the wrong people. We need to give money to small businesses,” added Dr. Ducksworth-Lawton. “The most important thing a nation does is take care of its people, everything else is secondary. We need to think as a people about how we return more of our power to the local and think of how we get these people to listen to us. Right now, it doesn’t feel like anybody is listening to people at the bottom.”

The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January 2020. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following year, we have published hundreds of articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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