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Fresh Coast
1,513 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I was reading some old articles that came out from the Journal Sentinel a year and half ago, and it inspired me to start a thread about it. The Journal came out with a 3-series article about the economic state in Milwaukee's inner-city.

I'd like to start a discussion about the state of the Midwest's inner-cities.

Photo/Gary Porter

Let's start with some facts:
  • In 1970, at the city's industrial peak, the black poverty rate in Milwaukee was 22% lower than the U.S. black average. That turned around by 2000, when the black poverty rate was 34% higher than the national figure. Among the nation's 20 most populous cities in 2000, Milwaukee had the highest rate of black poverty.
  • In 1970, the median family income for African-Americans in Milwaukee was 19% higher than the U.S. median income for black families. By 2000, the black family income in Milwaukee was 23% lower than the national figure. In the 2000 census, Milwaukee fell to 49th among the nation's 50 largest metro areas in racial disparities in income.
  • Milwaukee had the highest black unemployment rate of the major cities surveyed in 2002 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau also found that 59% of Milwaukee's black males 16 and older were idle, and that the city's black unemployment rate was more than three times its white unemployment rate.
  • In 2003, an estimated 48% of Milwaukee black children under age 5 lived in poverty. Nationally, the Census Bureau estimated that 39% of all black children under 5 were living below the poverty level.
  • Wisconsin - where three of every four African-Americans live in Milwaukee - has the nation's highest rates of black teenage births and black incarceration, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and U.S. Justice Department, respectively.

Quotes about the economic situation:
"I don't need arguments of racial discrimination or integration to explain why Milwaukee does as badly," said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

"When you deindustrialize white towns, you see the same phenomenon," Sum said. "Earnings fall. Marriage rates go down. Out-of-wedlock birthrates rise. You see the same behavior as you would in what we normally attribute as the urban underclass."

Before he agreed to be interviewed, Sum independently analyzed Milwaukee's census data in his own computerized "regression model" that compared the city's demographic, educational, economic and labor-market variables with those of the nation's 30 biggest cities. "If you had anything like that in the rest of the country, you would call that a massive depression," Sum said.

The city became a blue collar boomtown because it was once a hotbed of industrial innovation, a sort of heavy-manufacturing version of Silicon Valley. But when the industrial combines went out of business, the Midwest economy splintered into a spectrum of smaller, more agile high-skill firms that no longer rely on migrant or immigrant labor.

So what is Milwaukee doing about it?

The last time Milwaukee launched a conspicuous rescue effort in an economically stricken neighborhood, it spared few expenses and emptied the toolbox of 20th-century urban renewal strategies.

Steeltech Manufacturing Inc. opened in the early 1990s. In Metcalfe Park, one of Milwaukee's poorest neighborhoods, parks and houses were cleared to make way for a gleaming $32 million steel refinishing plant.

Civic and business leaders were hoping to replicate the old model of factory job creation for a Northern industrial city. Steeltech trained the unemployed as welders. Minority managers received majority stakes. The plant began life with a $66 million federal contract, five forms of state and federal funds, loans from six banks, its own special tax district and 42 lawyers.

It failed spectacularly.

Aware that Milwaukee needs a come-from-behind strategy, initiative staffers have begun to assemble a new urban revitalization toolbox meant to catalyze the incubators of free enterprise, regardless of the entrepreneur's race, while supporting existing companies in the urban core.

Experts from Boston's Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, founded by one of Harvard's leading economic theorists, have flown to Milwaukee to draft long-term strategies. Last year, they published a 60-page prospectus that maps out business opportunities. The prospectus lists four sectors that hold the most promise in Milwaukee's urban core: back-office service firms to support the region's strong financial and insurance industries; health services, which feed off the city's cluster of medical technology industries; manufacturing, a Milwaukee mainstay that still employs one in five central-city workers in the city; and construction, which can capitalize on a big slate of planned public-works projects.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University have provided urban policy experts and are contouring curriculum into "advancement tracks." Eager to breathe life back into unused urban land, for example, Marquette is training minority students to find a new life for old commercial real estate.

"I think you'd be surprised to find that there are some 5,000 businesses in the inner city of Milwaukee, employing 120,000 people," said Katherine M. Hudson, former chief executive of Milwaukee-based Brady Corp. and one of the initiative's most passionate backers.

All this information has been copy/pasted for the Series that was published in the Journal Sentinel. I, in no way, did justice to these articles, so I apologize for any misleading editing. Since the articles were printed, more initiatives have been brought about by the city, and public groups. Examples include the proposed minimum wage increase, and the sustainable development guidelines brought on by the Menomonee Valley(Milwaukee's late industrial core) redevelopment, which is making huge

Fresh Coast
1,513 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
My question is: is this enough? For your location, is your city investing enough in it's inner-city neighborhoods?

It's common knowledge (at least on this forum), that Milwaukee is experiencing a influential renewal. Based on the facts and information that was provided it's diffucult to say that balanced investment is occuring in Milwaukee's neighborhoods. Yes, a city is only as strong as its core (or downtown), but how much can a city improve, with serious economic problems weighing it down?

If anyone is interested in reading this amazing articles, here are the links:
Journal Sentinel: Hit by a global train
Journal Sentinel: Out of steam
Journal Sentinel: Sowing jobs

691 Posts
I think it's pertinent and useful to point out that all the negative statistics about black poverty in Milwaukee are greatly exacerbated by the fact that Milwaukee's black population was increasing greatly at the very time that the city's economy was going into a tailspin. Sadly, no one could foresee the future, but I think it's now possible to believe that the worst times have past. Here too are borrowed quotations:

Milwaukee's minority population began growing substantially in the 1960s, mostly because of African-Americans who began arriving here for industrial jobs during a time when the city's overall population peaked at 741,324.
Only five other cities among the top 25 in the country at the time had lower percentages of African-American residents - San Antonio, San Diego, Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis.
By 1970, the African-American population had tripled to 16% of the city's more than 700,000 residents. Over the next 20 years, as the overall population began its downward spiral, the minority population continued to increase. In 1990, the census showed the African-American population of the city of Milwaukee was 30.5% and the Hispanic population was 6%. The 2000 totals moved up a half-dozen percentage points for each of those groups.
By ALAN J. BORSUK and LEONARD SYKES JR.of the Journal Sentinel staff

Per Capita Income
While population change is generally indicative of underlying economic trends, income, specifically per capita income, is a better measure of a city’s economic vitality. Use of this indicator shows how Milwaukee has undergone a pronounced decline since 1970. In 1970 Milwaukee’s economic performance was about the average for the U.S.’s largest cities: its per capita income was 96% of the average of the other 49 big U.S. cities at the time, ranking it 30th among all 50 cities. While clearly not the best economic performer among large cities in 1970, Milwaukee was close to the average and certainly far from the worst.
Thirty years later, Milwaukee was in a starkly different situation: by 2000. Milwaukee’s per capita income had negatively and significantly, diverged from its peers. In 2000 Milwaukee’s real per capita income stood at $15,138, a full 23% below the average city per capita income. Milwaukee has become one of the six poorest big cities in the nation. This is a startling change from Milwaukee’s relative economic position in 1970.
Between 1970 and 2000, the total number of U.S. jobs increased by 88%. Some areas of the country surpassed this performance, in some instances generating job growth that doubled the total number of jobs in the region. Unfortunately, Milwaukee County’s annual job growth between 1970 and 2000 averaged 0.6%. This is less than one-quarter of the national employment growth. What caused this poor job growth? The loss of 77,360 manufacturing jobs was so significant that even a sizable increase in service jobs over the thirty years, proved insufficient to lift Milwaukee County’s growth rate to anything approaching the national average.
Is Milwaukee better off today than it was in prior years? On most measures Milwaukee is decidedly worse off economically today than it was thirty years ago. Its shrinking population signaled the city’s substantial economic diminishment over the last thirty years. In 1970 Milwaukee looked like the average large and economically successful U.S. city — its average resident enjoyed income levels akin to those of other large cities and its prominence as a U.S. manufacturing hub promised sustained economic viability.
Thirty years later, Milwaukee looked like the handful of shrinking and economically faltering large U.S. cities. Its economic base was significantly altered by the transformation of the U.S. economy in the 1980s and 1990s, and its average resident received an income demonstrably lower than the average American and the average big city resident.
Excerpted from the January 2004 report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, “Wisconsin’s Quiet Crisis: Why Building a New Milwaukee Economy Matters to Wisconsin,” by George Lightbourn and Stephen J. Agostini.
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