April V. Taylor
It hasn’t been too long since a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Wisconsin as the worst state in the country for the well-being of Black Children. With that ranking, it should come as no surprise that the worst city in the country for Black people, Milwaukee, is found in Wisconsin.
The new ranking comes from a recent report by business website 24/7 Wall St. that used a myriad of economic factors and social measure to rank major U.S. cities. Using an index of nine measures to assess race-based gaps in access to resources and opportunities in each of the metropolitan areas it studied, the report was able to ensure that the rankings were based on differences between Black and white Americans instead of measuring the availability of resources and opportunities, which would have only measured levels of socioeconomic development.
How did Milwaukee wind up at the top of this list? Similar to other areas in the Midwest, Black people traveled to Milwaukee in large numbers during the 1960s to take advantage of the burgeoning manufacturing industry, leading to the formation of Black communities. When the city’s industrial base collapsed, it served as a catalyst for racial disparities. This pattern of racial inequality as a result of the Great Migration when millions of Blacks relocated to the North and Midwest between 1916 and 1970 is evidenced by the fact that four of the cities with the worst racial inequality are in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
In response to the Annie E. Casey Foundation report that ranked Wisconsin as the worst state for Black children, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families director Ken Taylor pointed out a trend that has clearly trickled down from the state to the city level in Milwaukee, stating, “If we look at education, if we look at employment, if we look at involvement in the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system, if we look at adult incarceration – on every indicator, we see that African American children are doing worse, in some cases much worse than other children, particularly, white children in our state.”
In Milwaukee in particular, the median household income disparity between Black and white households in particularly stark, with white households earning $73,700 annually, one of the highest in the country, while Black households earn a paltry $28,000 a year. Painting an even more contrasting picture is the fact that Milwaukee has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 3.9 percent, but the city’s Black residents face an unemployment rate of 12.8 percent.
Despite approximately 20 percent of Milwaukee’s Black residents having at least a bachelor’s degree, which is on par with the national average, more than 35 percent of the Black population lives in poverty, a significantly higher rate than the national average of 27 percent.
Education is the key to overcoming many obstacles, and school children in Milwaukee face particularly striking disadvantages heaped on top of the mounting obstacles that have been uncovered. The difference between white and Black high school attainment in Milwaukee is 14.2 percentage points, nearly double the national average disparity.
Perhaps even more disheartening than the racial disparities that seem never-ending in Milwaukee is the fact that local officials do not appear to be committed to doing anything to address the issues. The city’s mayor is instead focused on fighting to create and expensive downtown streetcar project. The city’s County Executive has poured untold amounts of energy into a new arena project in downtown Milwaukee.
The multi-generational issues of race and poverty in Milwaukee that helped land the city at the bottom of this most recent list are complex and intricate, but as the country’s minority population continues to grow, it is imperative that racial disparities that prevent Black people from enjoying the same quality of life and opportunity as whites be addressed quickly and holistically.