The Associated Press September 22, 2011, 3:19PM ET

Wisconsinites see household incomes fall 14.5 pct.

If you're making do with less, you're not alone -- especially in Wisconsin.

The state's median household income, adjusted for inflation, fell 14.5 percent between 1999 and 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday. The state figure was significantly worse than the national decline, which was 8.9 percent over that same period.

Times sure have changed since manufacturing kept the state's jobless rate at 3 percent, said Timothy Smeeding, a director at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"The pain is out there," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ( http://bit.ly/mW2Kl4). "A working-age family, they're still in the middle class. But the middle class is taking a beating."

The median household income across the state was $49,001 last year, down nearly $1,000 from the previous year.

The hit was even bigger in the city of Milwaukee, where median household income plunged 22 percent since 1999 to $32,911.

Beyond the loss of take-home pay, families have weathered cuts in pay, pensions and benefits. Health care deductibles have risen, along with food and utility bills and college tuitions. Money that might have gone toward long-term savings is now being used for day-to-day expenses.

"Eight to 10 years ago, you didn't fear for your future. You didn't fear for the stock market. There was a little talk about Social Security not being there, but you didn't fear you might not have a house," said Sheri Hyland of Franklin. "Now, you're cutting coupons ... You say, maybe we won't drive that truck and we'll buy a 10-year-old car because gas prices are high."

Other residents said their lives began to spiral downward after a job loss.

After Wendy Cole lost her $65,000 per year job as a compliance manager last year, the Nashotah woman saw her condo end up in foreclosure, her health insurance run out and her utilities disconnected. Her 401(k) is nearly gone and she said she wakes up at night wondering how she'll manage when her unemployment runs out in two months.

Renee Jorgensen of Waukesha was laid off from her $38,000-a-year-secretarial job last year. The 40-year-old said she's grateful for a Waukesha County food pantry that has helped her and her daughters cope, but she's worried about her chances of finding a new job.

Sharon Collins of Muskego can relate. Even though she's 69 she said she doesn't have enough money to think about retirement. Instead, she has struggled to find a new job ever since she lost her job at a doctor's office last year.

"You just have to wait and see what happens next. It's probably going to be a long wait" before things get better, she said.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com


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