Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

22% of City Workers Live in Suburbs

Nearly 1,000 workers have left city since state ended residency rule.

By - Dec 14th, 2017 11:50 am
Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee is steadily losing employees who earn their paycheck from the city but have chosen to live and pay their property taxes elsewhere. The outflow has been steady since a state law ending the city’s residency requirement for employees went into effect in July 2013.

Anywhere from 7 to 44 city workers per month have moved to the suburbs, and the total at the end of November stood at 993 employees who’ve left the city and 449 new hires who live elsewhere and have chosen not to move into Milwaukee. That totals 1,442 non-resident employees or about 22 percent of the 6,561 workers on the city payroll, according to data from the city Department of Employee Relations.

The trend, says Mayor Tom Barrett, “has been bad. And we expected it.”

The city residency requirement had been in force for 75 years, since 1938, and 17 governors saw no need to override the ordinance until Gov. Scott Walker took office. City officials estimated that Milwaukee would lose 50 percent of its employees if the residency requirement was ended, as Urban Milwaukee reported in 2013, when Walker proposed the state law. Statistics at the time showed Minneapolis lost 70 percent of its employees, Baltimore 65 percent and Detroit 45 percent of its city employees to the suburbs after a residency requirement was ended.

Will the exodus continue until Milwaukee loses half or more of its city workers? “I hope it doesn’t,” Barrett says. “I don’t want to see our middle-class employees leaving the city. I want to to have a strong middle class in Milwaukee.”

The biggest exodus has come for the city’s safety employees: 35 percent of fire fighters and 31 percent of police officers now live outside Milwaukee, compared to 12 percent of general city workers.

“We always anticipated it would be higher for police and fire fighters because they’re better paid,” Barrett noted.

This exodus has largely ended a word-of-mouth real estate marketplace, whereby older, retiring fire fighters and police sold their homes to younger fire and police employees, Barrett noted.

And it has been felt the most on the city’s far south side, in Ald. Terry Witkowski’s district, where the 53221 zip code has lost the most city employees, and the southwest side, in Ald. Mark Borkowski’s district, where the 53219 zip code has lost the second-most employees. Ranking third in employees who moved to the suburbs is the 53207 zip code in the Bay View area, where the real estate market seems to be booming.

Ald. Tony Zielinski, who represents the area, says he doesn’t have any data on the exodus of city employees on the real estate market but adds, “Clearly, eliminating the residency requirement is something that is not good for the city.” Zielinski says he has always opposed the state law ending the requirement. (Witkowski and Borkowski did not respond to requests for comments.)

As to which suburbs city employees are moving to, city statistics show Franklin ranks first, followed by New Berlin, Oak Creek, Muskego and Greenfield. That conforms with time-honored patterns in Milwaukee; as local historian John Gurda has noted, when city residents move, south siders tend to move to southern suburbs and north siders to northern suburbs.

Barrett particularly laments the exodus of police. “I don’t think its good to have the police be an occupying force. I think its important that fire and police be part of the community. When you’re part of the community you treat it as more than just a job.”

The exodus of police has come at a time when relations between the community and the police department have been damaged by killings at the hands of police (Sylville Smith and Dontre Hamilton), illegal anal cavity searches by cops and disagreements over the federal DOJ report on police practices.

You need mutual respect between the community and police to address such issues, Barrett stressed. “It’s a two-way street. And I think there’s more respect when you’re part of the community.”

Lobbying of Walker and the Legislature to end the city residency requirement was led by former fire fighters union president Dave Seager, who moved to the Town of Jackson in Washington County once the residency rule was lifted.  Seager’s move and his side lobbying caused controversy that may have led to his removal as fire fighters president. The new president, Mike Bongiorno, lives in the city.

Besides the police and fire department, one other city department has seen the exodus of many employees: 120 Department of Public Works workers have moved to the suburbs.

The gradually increasing percentage of city employees living in the suburbs is also due to new hires living elsewhere who chose not to move to Milwaukee. And that trend is affecting general city employees just as much as fire and police, the data shows. “One of the challenges is getting new employees to move into the city,” Barrett says.

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

25 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: 22% of City Workers Live in Suburbs”

  1. WashCoRepub says:

    Good grief, Mayor, did the brain forget to engage before the mouth opened?

    ““I don’t think its good to have the police be an occupying force…”

    Yeah, I’m sure when a fleeing drug dealer or carjacker is reaching for his piece, his first thought is, “Hey, does that cop live around here, or does he live in the suburbs??”

  2. John says:

    Mayor Barrett is right – The police have become an occupying force and it shows in their attitude towards the citizens of Milwaukee. They have little repect for us.

  3. Let’s not take Barrett out of context. His point that rather than being occupiers from some suburb 10 miles away, community would feel better about police who preferred to live nearby. Don’t care what a fleeing drug dealer thinks but how a neighbor in that community responds to presence of police.

  4. mkwagner says:

    Thank you Dominique Paul Noth. Only someone who has no compassion for the citizens of Milwaukee would make the kinds of remarks made by WashCoRepub. That kind of small minded thinking is what is fueling the partisan divide in this state. WCR might be surprised to find out that the vast majority of us calling Milwaukee home, are law abiding citizens. We are, however, more likely to care for our neighbors regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual preference than WCR seems to demonstrate.

  5. blurondo says:

    Walker and his Tea Party lemmings have been, and still are, focused on their goal of dismantling any community that supports a Democratic oriented government. Retaliation is the first commandment of the Republican Party and the lever of racism is their most prolifically used tool.

  6. Thomas says:

    A Milwaukee cop used to live a block away from me. He moved away. I have only needed a cop once in 30 years of living in Milwaukee. I was glad at the time that one was convenient.

  7. Michael says:

    Sweet revenge – now they have to endure longer clogged freeways on their trek into the city

  8. JL Drost says:

    Perhaps the the cops and firefighters move away cuz they want to live in a more ‘crime free’ area. Milwaukeeans only hear about a fraction of local criminal activity whereas police and fire are in the thick of it.

  9. John Casper says:


    If City public safety workers don’t vote in aldermanic and mayoral elections, their compensation will head south. Moving to the suburbs eliminates their only leverage.

  10. Old Man Yells at Cloud says:


    With rampant social media, residents are hearing about MORE crime than ever before even as the total crime rates have been falling.

  11. Troll says:

    I don’t see a street car in the suburbs. Younger folks are flocking downtown. Suburban business (Kroger, Man power, Baderrudder, and Hammed company) are moving downtown. New investments such as NML, BMO tower, and the Coulture are being built. Construction and cranes are everywhere. Yet, we cry that some taxpayers that work for the city of Milwaukee live outside the city and mainly in the Democratic area of Milwaukee County.

  12. Troll says:

    UK, there is no crime in Milwaukee. If you have a vehicle and you need to update your registration be sure to use a razor on your yearly sticker and some clear tape. This excersise will not work if the subject cuts off the bottom right corner of your license plate.

  13. John Casper says:

    Troll, you wrote, “I don’t see a street car in the suburbs.”

    Why would you?

    Who would build a street car where there wasn’t the traffic density to warrant it?

    Since you can’t move the buildings downtown, the width of the streets requires mass transit. Rail is a nice ride than busses and facilitates being online either via phone or laptop.

    You wrote, “Younger folks are flocking downtown.”
    Why do you think that is?

    You wrote, “New investments such as NML, BMO tower, and the Coulture are being built.

    In the short term, NML, is their office space. In the long term, it will evolve into the generic office space that the First Wisconsin became. That’s what BMO is, in addition to apartments, because fewer can afford condos. Coulture was supposed to be condos, but it’ll be mostly apartments.

    Why did you leave out JCI?

    How did you miss Edens and Lasry pulling back on their building?

    They’re FIRE–finance, insurance, real estate, looking for rent. They aren’t improving productivity. That means they’re not creating wealth–except for the largest investors who can hedge their risks.

    You wrote, “construction and cranes are everywhere.”

    Wrong again. They’re only along the lake front, because the elites paid almost nothing for it.

    You wrote, “yet, we cry that some taxpayers that work for the city of Milwaukee live outside the city and mainly in the Democratic area of Milwaukee County.”

    Grab a kleenex. What are the “Democratic” areas of Milwaukee County? Which are the “Republican” areas?

  14. Troll says:

    Casper, there was a leg of the freeway taken down 17 years ago that crossed through the McKinley and Knapp Street area. Currently, a billion dollars of new private and public investment resides there. I only bring up the street car, the Marquette interchange, and the investments in the freeway along the Hoan bridge as economic accomplishments. If you throw in the new Arena there is a lot of infrastructure investment by the state and the federal government. Yet Barrett continues to whine. City workers are paid more if they live in the city and still they exit.

  15. John Casper says:

    Troll, use more kleenex. You’re the whiner.

    You wrote, “Casper, there was a leg of the freeway taken down 17 years ago that crossed through the McKinley and Knapp Street area. Currently, a billion dollars of new private and public investment resides there.”

    What is it?

    In God we trust. All others bring links. Same for the “investment” along the Hoan bridge.

    You wrote, “I only bring up the street car, the Marquette interchange, and the investments in the freeway along the Hoan bridge as economic accomplishments.”

    The street car was done above the objections of Gov. Walker and WIGOP. It’s an accomplishment. It counts as new infrastructure.

    Marquette interchange was built in the ’60’s. The recent work is just maintaining it. It’s like maintaining the roof on your house. It doesn’t add any new value/infrastructure.

    If Gov. Walker hadn’t blocked the $800 billion in federal dollars for high speed rail, the I-94 wouldn’t be such a disaster. Less wear and tear means the pavement lasts longer. Airlines have a tougher time gouging passengers, because it’s c-o-m-p-e-t-i-t-i-o-n on short haul flights. It connects the state’s flagship educational institution, Madison, to Chicago.

    You wrote, “If you throw in the new Arena there is a lot of infrastructure investment by the state and the federal government.

    Wake up.

    We already had the Bradley Center.

    The only problem with it was the new owners couldn’t squeeze more revenue out of Bucks and Marquette fans. No city in the world wants an NBA franchise. The Bucks weren’t going anywhere. It was welfare for the elites. That’s not infrastructure.

  16. blurondo says:

    The Marquette interchange underwent a total rebuild between 2004 and 2008.

  17. Hillbilly says:

    Barrett could have made it a bargaining item, but he challenged the unions to “go change state law”. So they did. I was a cop for 32 years here, never lived in the inner city but I patrolled it. Only a fool thinks a cop needs to live in a city to care about it.

  18. John Casper says:


    Did they dig out the pier footings that had been buried since it was built?

  19. John Casper says:


    As I wrote earlier in this thread, “if City public safety workers don’t vote in aldermanic and mayoral elections, their compensation will head south. Moving to the suburbs eliminates their only leverage.”

    “Only a fool thinks,” the Posse Comitatus doesn’t matter.

    “The purpose of the act – in concert with the Insurrection Act of 1807 – is to limit the powers of the federal government in using federal military personnel to enforce domestic policies within the United States.”

    What district did you “patrol?”

  20. John Casper says:


    While “traffic cameras” work, they take money away from local law enforcement.

    Funding public safety workers should be just that, better funded public safety jobs to attract and retain better workers. We shouldn’t force police officers to make traffic stops to “pay their rent.”

    When are the unions going to “change state law?”

    Legalizing marijuana would be a good first step towards increasing compensation for public sector workers, but so much of the federal dollars that pay local law enforcement are tied to pot interdiction. That’s wrong. Prohibition of alcohol didn’t work. Pot prohibition is a “job-killing-government-regulation.” Treat it like alcohol. Reserve law enforcement’s role to keeping it away from minors.

  21. Bruce Hall says:

    This is an interesting a perplexing problem for many cities. Detroit had a residency requirement for decades, but an investigation revealed that many “residents” had nothing more than an address or a derelict house in Detroit and actually lived elsewhere. It was an open secret.

    The problem is that high taxes, high crime, and government corruption drives out those who can afford to move from cities who have had a social welfare approach. Detroit is an excellent example of residents voting for the same corrupt officials regardless of what those officials did and continued to do. “They may be crooks, but they’re our crooks” was the attitude. The city essentially collapsed and the residents became apathetic and discouraged. The suburbs prospered.

    Milwaukee hasn’t reached the depths of Detroit, but both cities are different entities than they were in the 1950s. Strangely, Minneapolis, until recently, hasn’t had a major problem in this regard. Their residency requirement was repealed in 1999… the same year as Detroit’s. Perhaps Milwaukee officials should meeting with Minneapolis officials to see why they are successful.

  22. Bruce Hall says:

    Slight clarification: what I meant to say was despite the repeal of the residency requirements in Minneapolis, that city has not had the crime, population loss, and financial problems of Detroit and Milwaukee… and that’s why Milwaukee officials should meet with Minneapolis officials to better understand what works.

  23. EricS says:

    @Bruce Hall – Interestingly, Minneapolis has suffered population loss like Milwaukee, while avoiding the other problems you mention. Minneapolis peaked in 1950, fell through 1990, and has grown since then. In 2016 its population stood about 20% below its 1950 peak. Milwaukee peaked in 1960, fell through about 2000 and has essentially been stable since then. In 2016, its population stood about 19% below its 1960 peak. Detroit is more than 60% below its peak 1950 population.

  24. Hillbilly says:


    Districts 1,3,and 5, as well as the jail for a year and Field Technology Unit for 5.

  25. John Casper says:


    You couldn’t find a link more recent than eighteen-years ago?

    If you had recited the Pledge of Allegiance, “…one nation under al…l,” in school, you wouldn’t be trying to divide Americans.

    The problems plaguing us aren’t unique to urban areas. They’re in the suburbs and rural areas.

    “Sex, Drugs and Poverty in Red and Blue America”

    AFAIK, River Hills has low taxes, because you have to own five-acres of land to own a home. The population density is lower than surrounding suburbs.

    Federal taxes are too high everywhere, because of the fiscal illiteracy in both parties.

    Republicans are right about about cutting federal taxes, that’s both sides of the payroll tax–FICA–income, and corporate taxes. Democrats are right about increased federal spending on healthcare, education, green infrastructure, and research.

    Former Federal Bank of NY Reserve Chairman, Beardsley Ruml, wrote in 1946, “(Federal) Taxes For Revenue Are Obsolete.”…/taxes-for-revenue-are…
    Mr. Ruml did not mean that taxes, themselves, were obsolete. They aren’t. In case of demand-pull inflation–too many dollars chasing too few goods–federal taxes reduce aggregate demand. The federal government, however, does not need the revenue. Its spending is NOT constrained by how much tax revenue it can squeeze out of the population. We don’t need the Chinese or anyone else to buy our bonds.

    Per former PIMCO chief economist Paul McCulley, “Remember, the government sector’s liability is the private sector’s asset!”…/global…/facts-on-the-ground

    All bets are off if a U.S. government debt isn’t denominated in dollars–oil, gold,….

    We can’t run out of dollars, but we can run out of drinkable water; safe food, sustainable energy, some metals, minerals, and medicines. Those shortages cause cost-push inflation.

    The dollar is a public monopoly. Laws about abusing federal contracts–Medicaid for example–are still stealing from the taxpayers.

    The U.S. Treasury creates most dollars electronically, same way scoreboards at Lambeau create points. Ever hear a fan worry the scoreboards might run out of points?

    Why do you want government taxing people to pay the government something it has an infinite supply of?

    How do you send real output back in time? How much would a 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee fetch in 1980?

    GOP is correct. Federal spending on anything increases prices along the supply chain required to make it. State and local governments can’t create dollars. Their budgets have to balance, “just like a family’s.” If you want to eliminate state and local taxes, convince the federal government to deliver block grants.

    Economists, Warren Mosler, Stephanie Kelton, Pavlina Tcherneva, and other proponents of what’s now known as Modern Monetary Theory are excellent resources.

    “The Rock Star Appeal of Modern Monetary Theory.”…/the-rock-star-appeal-of…/

    The fiscal illiterates in both parties would have lost WW2. What can’t be replaced are the soldiers’ lives. That was the real cost. U.S. had limited steel, oil, rubber, …. reserves that constrained our military capabilities. Where the gov’t invested was what mattered.

    Economist Pavlina Tcherneva’s “Antidote to Deficit Phobia”…/f4c1a3…
    is a four-page gem.

    Merry Christmas.

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