The Problem of Poverty
Poverty is rising faster in Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee than nationally.
Last week the Census Bureau released new data on household incomes in the United States and the news was not good. It was even worse for Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee.
Incomes were actually rising a bit in the U.S. from 2000 to 2007, but the impact of the Great Recession has been so devastating that average household incomes across America have declined significantly, dropping (in real, inflation-controlled dollars) from an average of $55,030 in 2000 to $51,371 in 2012 — a decline of 6.6 percent.
Two states saw big increases during this time: North Dakota and Wyoming, boosted by all that fracking, saw average household incomes grow by 17 percent and 6.9 percent respectively, while the District of Columbia, boosted by all that government, enjoyed a 23.3 percent increase. Meanwhile, lots of states saw declines, and two of the worst hit were Michigan (down 19.1 percent) and Indiana (down 13.2 percent). Both are big states for manufacturing, which continues to decline.
Accompanying the drop in average household income was a rise in poverty. Nationally the percentage of people in poverty rose 3.7%, from 12.2% to 15.9%. Wisconsin saw poverty rise slightly faster, jumping from 8.9% to 13.2%, up by 4.3%.
As for Milwaukee, the news looked even worse. A different part of the census report shows that 29.9% of the city of Milwaukee’s people now live in poverty, giving this city the ninth-highest level of poverty in 2012, an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal found. In the same story, Mayor Tom Barrett said his administration is trying to fight the problem “on multiple fronts.”
As bad as all this sounds, it actually represents slight progress since 2010, when Milwaukee ranked fourth highest in poverty among big cities.
The census report offered no long-term data on urban poverty, but the UW-Milwaukee Employment & Training Institute tracks this, and reports that back in 2000 the census data showed that 21.3 percent of the city’s population lived in poverty. So that has risen to 29.9 percent, an alarming hike.
Why such a spike? The combined onslaught of the Great Recession and the continuing decline in manufacturing have had a huge impact. A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that “the population in extreme-poverty neighborhoods—where at least 40 percent of individuals live below the poverty line,” rose by one-third from 2000 to 2005–09 nationally but nearly doubled in Midwestern metro areas from 2000 to 2005–09. The Midwest, once the stable backbone of the American economy, has really been fractured by these negative trends.
As I’ve previously reported, almost all of the income gains since the economic meltdown have gone to the top 1 percent, while the rest of Americans “have hardly started to recover.”
As for Milwaukee, it has become a tale of two cities, with alarmingly high poverty in many neighborhoods, even as others are going through a boom in urban redevelopment. It also remains a welcoming place for low-income people while nearby suburbs resist affordable housing and enforce laws (on minimum lot sizes, etc.) intended to keep out the poor. As a result, the census data showed, 71 percent of poor people in the metro area live in the city of Milwaukee. Compared to the nearly 30 percent of people below the poverty line in the city, only about 6 percent of people in Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties live in poverty.
The Impact of Women Wage Earners
The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance also came out with a recent report showing how the state trails the nation in per capita income. “Wisconsin has been below average in this area for over 40 years,” Wistax notes. “In 2000, it was within 3.9% of the national norm but dropped to 6.8% below by 2008. With economic recovery, the gap closed to 4.5% in 2010, but Wisconsin fell back to 5.1% behind the US by 2012.”
These figures reinforce an earlier analysis for Urban Milwaukee by Bruce Thompson, who found the state fell behind the nation in growing jobs in the early years under Gov. Jim Doyle but later exceeded the nation in jobs growth, only to fall backwards again under Scott Walker.
Wistax also notes that Wisconsin has done somewhat better in average household income growth than in per-capita income growth. Why? More workers per household. “In brief, Wisconsinites compensate for lower wages by having relatively more women working to supplement household income,” the report notes.
Abele’s Pick for County Corp Counsel
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has appointed Paul Bargren to serve as Corporation Counsel. It’s an impressive pick. Bargren was a lawyer and litigator with Foley & Lardner LLP, where he handled environmental and insurance matters, as well as defamation and open records matters.
Bargren’s resume shows that he was given the highest performance rating in Martindale-Hubbell’s peer review rating system and was selected by peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America since 2011 in the fields of commercial litigation, advertising law and litigation – environmental.
Longtime newspaper readers will recall the many years Bargren spent as a well-regarded reporter and later, an editor with the Milwaukee Journal. “He was a great reporter and one of the finest editors I ever worked with,” says one veteran Journal scribe.
There has been no word from the Milwaukee County Board, which dumped the previous corp counsel, Kimberly Walker, in what seemed like a vindictive and unjustified move, as I’ve noted. Here’s hoping the board approves this appointment.