If the Wisconsin State Fair had a welfare-caseload reduction contest, rural Marquette County (pop. about 13,000) would walk off with the blue ribbon. In a state that is fast shedding cases, Marquette's drop has been the steepest: down 91% in the past decade. And it's one of a handful of thinly populated counties that have got the number of "work-qualified" households on their welfare rolls down to a notable benchmark: zero.

It isn't that Marquette has no welfare cases. The county is 13 families away from that distinction. But for reasons ranging from disability to care of a child younger than...

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